Serbian pressure worsens plight of Sarajevo citizens

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The Independent Online
FEARS OF foreign military intervention against Serbian forces in Bosnia sparked panicky speculation in the Serbian media yesterday and a plea from the Yugoslav President, Dobrica Cosic, to John Major not to consider Bosnian Serbs the sole aggressors.

After days of intense fighting around the northern suburbs of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, yesterday saw a relative lull. The Serbs reportedly withdrew a group of their tanks which had earlier moved out of the Serbian barracks at Lukovica, and occupied the UN-held road from the airport to the city. The seizure of this vital supply line raised fears that the Serbs were contemplating a final pre-Christmas onslaught on Sarajevo.

The Bosnian Serbs denied a Bosnian radio report that Bosnian forces loyal to President Alija Izetbegovic had captured the strategic Zuc hill area, north of the city.

The severity of recent fighting left the airport at Butmir, south of Sarajevo, closed for the 10th day, worsening the awful plight of the city's 400,000 trapped residents. Freezing in high-rise flats which long ago lost their windows and for the most part without water, their stores of UN-supplied bread are dwindling. To cope with a flour shortage caused by the airport closure, the city's main bakery ordered bread to be restricted to hospitals and refugees.

Even if the airport is reopened, this will not improve matters in other crowded Muslim-held towns and cities throughout Bosnia, which have to survive sub-zero temperatures, and feed hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees who have fled from regions captured by Serbs.

In Zenica, in central Bosnia, UN officials painted a nightmarish portrait of shortages, malnutrition and disease. Only half the food needed to keep people in the minimum of health was reaching Zenica, they said. An equally grim picture has emerged from Travnik in northern central Bosnia, where the problems of bitter cold and the presence of thousands of refugees have been compounded by heavy bombardment by nearby Serbian forces.

Fears that the Serbs are considering a knock-out offensive against Sarajevo increased following a mysterious offer from the Serbian headquarters this week to allow the entire civilian population of 400,000 to leave. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, claimed the offer was inspired by concern for the health of the city's suffering population, now into the eighth month of Serbian siege. A Serb leader warned that civilians may be evacuated by force. Nikola Koljevic said it had to be shown that 'there is something worse than ethnic cleansing, which is political detention.'

ZAGREB - Dubrovnik airport reopened for the first time in 15 months, AFP reports.

(Photograph omitted)