UN commander calls for airlift to Srebrenica: Serbs halt aid convoys again while Muslims leave peace talks in New York as fighting in Bosnia continues

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The Independent Online
SERBIAN forces prevented United Nations convoys delivering aid to Bosnia's Muslims yesterday as General Philippe Morillon, UN commander in Bosnia, called for an airlift to the besieged town of Srebrenica.

The confrontation between the Serbs and Gen Morillon grew increasingly tense as UN officials reported that Bosnian Serb forces were advancing on Srebrenica. In New York, the Bosnian Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, temporarily suspended his participation in the talks, saying he could not be involved as long as Serbs continued their offensive in eastern Bosnia and Sarajevo.

Gen Morillon, who has spent eight days in the town, insists that the Serbs halt the offensive before he will leave. He said conditions were so desperate that extra Western aircraft should drop aid to the 60,000 inhabitants. Roland Dumas, French Foreign Minister, said a French airlift could be prepared 'in the coming hours'.

Srebrenica has been under Serbian siege for 11 months and no UN aid has arrived by road since December. US planes dropped 30 tons of food and medical supplies over the town early yesterday, the 10th mission to Srebrenica in 18 days.

Larry Hollingworth, a UN official in the town, said by radio that Muslims were fighting each other with guns and knives in a chaotic scramble to get to the crates first.

Wounded, sick and elderly Muslims, including hundreds of refugees from neighbouring settlements that have fallen to the Serbs, have received little aid because they are too weak to move and there is no organised distribution of supplies.

Bosnian Serb commanders say they will not allow aid to reach Srebrenica until Gen Morillon leaves. Gen Morillon ordered a 23-truck UN convoy to set out yesterday for Srebrenica from the Serbian border town of Mali Zvornik, where it had been stranded for eight days. The trucks drove to Velika Reka, 11 miles north of a bridge where the Serbs control entry into Bosnia. There, Serbian police and soldiers turned them back.

Before walking out of the latest round of peace talks in New York, the Bosnian Muslims presented a modified version of the 'peace map' to divide the country into semi-autonomous provinces.

The original plan, drawn up by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, would divide the country into 10 provinces, but the Muslims' map suggested 13 separate regions with the three new ones under UN control.

Earlier in the day, Mr Vance and Lord Owen held talks with the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, who did not bring his top military commander, Gen Radko Mladic, as expected. No progress was reported in those talks. Mr Karadzic and the Bosnian Croat leader, Mate Boban, were due to meet the two peace mediators later yesterday.

Apart from the map - and only the Bosnian Croats have accepted the original version - all three parties are anxious to fix the immediate arrangements for implementing a ceasefire, should the peace plan be signed. According to the Vance-Owen plan the ceasefire would take place 72 hours after the signing and peace-keeping troops would move in the next day.

Nato has been drawing up plans to send in at least 50,000 troops as soon as the settlement is reached, but the key issue of who would command such a force is as yet unresolved. The US and Britain want a Nato commander, but France and Canada want the force to be under overall UN command.

In a separate move, the UN Security Council condemned Serbian forces for new violations of its ban on flights over Bosnia. The condemnation was strongly supported by the US administration, which favours using military force to police the air exclusion zone. Last night it appeared that the US had succeeded in getting French backing for the plan.

In London yesterday, the Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said British forces may not remain in Bosnia after October, when Britain's undertaking to the UN expires, and Britain will have no compunction about withdrawing troops if they cannot fulfil their mandate.

Mr Rifkind said Britain had given the UN an undertaking to provide the battalion group centred on the Cheshire Regiment and the 9th/12th Lancers for six months, and was about to replace it with another group centred on the Prince of Wales' Own Regiment of Yorkshire and the Light Dragoons for another six months.