Red Cross suspends Bosnian evacuation

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The Independent Online
THE Red Cross last night suspended plans for immediate evacuation of thousands of Muslims and Croats from Prijedor in northern Bosnia after the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, placed drastic limits on the number of people he would allow to go.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called off the plan for the time being because Mr Karadzic agreed to let go only dozens of people who felt most threatened, the ICRC delegation chief in Bosnia, Andreas Kuhn, told reporters in Sarajevo after meeting Mr Karadzic.

Mr Karadzic had said he was ready to let most people whose lives were really under threat leave but that this would not mean the ICRC should evacuate thousands of people, Mr Kuhn said.

Bosnia's Muslim-led government had earlier condemned Serbian extremists for killing Muslim and Croat civilians in Prijedor and said the atrocities threw into doubt efforts to achieve a peace settlement. 'We are seeing the completion of the operation of 'ethnic cleansing' and genocide. I can say this puts in great danger the continuation of the peace process,' said the Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic.

Militant Serbs killed up to 20 Muslims and Croats in Prijedor last week in what seemed an attempt to terrorise people the and turn the town into a purely Serbian area. Mr Karadzic pledged to identify and punish the killers, but foreign observers question both the sincerity of his promises and his ability to control the most extreme elements of the Bosnian Serb armed forces.

Thousands of Muslims and Croats still in Prijedor are so fearful for their lives that they want to leave the town in an evacuation organised by the United Nations and the Red Cross. But Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: 'We know that the local Muslim representative was approached by the local police chief, who basically urged them not to go, saying they would receive guarantees of safety.'

He added: 'From what we know, they (the Muslims and Croats of Prijedor) are not quite convinced that this would be the case. The last time we spoke to them, a lot of people said they would leave.'

Over the past week Bosnian Serb forces also appear to have intensified their assault on Gorazde, the mainly Muslim eastern town on the Drina river that has been under siege since the spring of 1992 and has been declared a UN-protected 'safe area'. But the pro-Serbian Tanjug news agency quoted Bosnian Serb military sources as saying that Muslim units around Gorazde had launched an infantry and artillery attack on Serbian positions.

UN peace-keepers in Bosnia say privately that Muslim forces are keen to probe Serbian defences now that they have virtually ended their war with the Croats in central and southern Bosnia. The Muslims and Croats have formed a federation that lays claim to more than a quarter of the territory now under Bosnian Serb control.

Now that UN forces have opened a humanitarian aid corridor to the besieged Muslim enclave of Maglaj in northern Bosnia, the Muslim-led Bosnian army sees an opportunity to turn the enclave into a base for attacks on Serbian positions. The UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, visited Maglaj last Saturday and urged Muslim leaders not to provoke the Serbs.

'I spoke to Bosnian army and Croat commanders in Maglaj when I visited on Saturday, and suggested to them that at a time when the peace process is evolving and developing, the last thing we wanted was any major military activity up there. And I think they accepted the logic of what I was saying,' General Rose told reporters.

Bosnian Serb forces control about 70 per cent of Bosnia, and their political and military leaders retain ambitions to merge their territory with Serbia in an enlarged Serbian state. Their determination to realise this goal has been reinforced by the creation of the Muslim-Croat federation, which under an American-inspired initiative is allied to Croatia.

CLEVELAND, Ohio - President Bill Clinton said yesterday that the United States was committed to providing air support for UN troops if they were to move into Gorazde, Reuter reports.