UN general vows to stand by Muslims

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A TENSE battle of wills developed yesterday between Bosnian Serb military leaders and a French general who has turned into a hero for tens of thousands of sick, hungry and desperate Muslims in the town of Srebrenica. General Philippe Morillon, the head of United Nations forces in Bosnia, stuck to his insistence that he would not leave the besieged town until the Bosnian Serbs halted their offensive and allowed a UN aid convoy to enter the town.

Yesterday the general met Bosnian Serb militia commanders a few miles out of Srebrenica then returned to the besieged town, making it clear that he saw it as his duty to stand by the 60,000 people of Srebrenica until he could find some way of easing their plight. The town has been under Serbian seige for 11 months and the handful of Westerners who have visited it in the last week have painted a grim picture of widespread deaths from shellfire, disease and even starvation.

'They (the Serbs) thought I was a prisoner or a hostage; by going to this meeting with them I proved this was not so,' Gen Morillon said.

'The Serbs say that I'm a human shield; yes, I am a shield, I told them that I had now given my word . . . I will remain in Srebrenica not only until the arrival of the first convoy but as long as I consider that the safety of the inhabitants is at risk,' he said.

The general said he had won agreement by Bosnian Serbs for a ceasefire around the city, 'providing the (Muslim) Bosnian presidency orders an end to the counter-offensive it has launched,' and said that he hoped aid would be allowed through today.

General Morillon has set up a makeshift headquarters at the town's post office building and, to the great delight of the Muslims, has raised the UN flag above it. He has also taken to standing on the post office's balcony and addressing crowds of Muslims in the street with a megaphone. It is a far cry from the state of affairs last Thursday when the general entered the town with a small medical and reconnaissance team and discovered that a large group of Muslim refugees had blocked his way out.

'From a situation where we were more or less hostages he is now the king of Morillongrad,' said Laurens Jolles, a UN refugee official, who was with the general in Srebrenica last week.

The Bosnian Serbs are racking their brains for a way to eject the general and are convinced that the Muslims of Srebrenica are forcing him to abandon the impartiality incumbent upon him as a UN representative. 'The Serbian side has said that they will not let any aid in until Gen Morillon has left the town. They will not open aid corridors and they will not let a UN military monitoring team set up a presence in Srebrenica,' said one UN official.

Bosnian Serb police barred reporters from travelling beyond Zvornik, 40 miles north of Srebrenica. 'No one goes anywhere unless Morillon gets out,' said one policeman in Zvornik.

The general, a tough but idealistic 57-year-old, is no stranger to controversy. In 1961 he supported French generals in Algeria who plotted against President Charles de Gaulle. It is an ironic twist that he has suddenly become such an object of Muslim adoration. Only last week they denounced him as a dupe because he visited the Serbian-captured enclave of Cerska and said he had seen no evidence of massacres of Muslim civilians. However, the general has made it clear that he regards Srebrenica as a town that has suffered particularly badly. Some UN aid workers believe the US air drops to the town have had limited impact.

Meanwhile, there were reports that another Muslim enclave, Konjevic Polje, had fallen to Serb forces. A Bosnian official in Sarajevo said he had heard a ham radio report that Serbian tanks and armoured cars were now in pursuit of refugees from Konjevic Polje, chasing them towards Srebrenica.