Sarajevo fears new Serbian onslaught

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO airport reopened yesterday for vital aid flights bringing food for the besieged city, as the United Nations made the most of a chink in the Bosnian Serb shield, that officials fear may slam shut within days.

The resumption of air flights, halted by Bosnian Serb threats for two weeks, came at the start of a critical week for the peace process, in which the Bosnian Serb leaders must decide whether they will accept the international peace plan. There was no repeat of the sniping that killed one man and injured 11 others on Saturday, presumed to be Bosnian Serb revenge for a government attack on Thursday that killed 20 Bosnian Serb soldiers.

In another retaliatory attack, Bosnian government forces shelled Serb-held Ilijas, north of Sarajevo, killing two children.

Some 20 flights brought more than 250 tons of wheat flour, beans and other foodstuffs - enough for about one and a half days - into the city. But the Serbs again denied the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) permission to send in food trucks to build up stocks. At present, the UN holds about three days' supply.

'There has been nothing into Sarajevo over land since 21 September,' said Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman.

The aid agency receives fuel from the UN Protection Force. But the UN has had difficulty in persuading the Serbs to let in fuel convoys and is rationing petrol in Sarajevo. Today, Lieutenant- General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, is due to hold talks with the Bosnian Serb military leader, General Ratko Mladic. The meeting is likely to be fraught. General Mladic is furious with the UN and Nato. He holds the UN responsible for the deaths of 20 soldiers killed by Bosnian troops, who attacked through a demilitarised zone patrolled by the UN.

General Mladic's response so far has been relatively muted - a sniper attack on Sarajevan civilians - but many fear he is holding back until the completion of a prisoner exchange. 11 prisoners of war from each side, one rumoured to be a relative of General Mladic, are due to be swapped today, after the medical evacuation yesterday of several Serbs from Gorazde.

'I feel Mladic will do nothing stupid till this (exchange) has been completed,' said a UN source. After that, 'I think we can expect a lot of surprises.'

Even if General Mladic curbs his desire for a revenge attack, there are other reasons to attack. The Bosnian Serb leaders have told the UN the present position - neither peace nor war - was untenable, a UN official said.