UN threat forces Serbs to open road: British troops' get-tough policy against militias pays dividends

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THE BRITISH commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia reaped the first rewards of his get-tough policy yesterday when Bosnian Serb soldiers opened a checkpoint in the face of a UN threat of force.

Lieutenant-General Michael Rose, who took up his post on 24 January, had vowed to send Warrior combat vehicles to force open the checkpoint, about 10 miles (16km) west of Sarajevo. The threat achieved its aim. UN vehicles must use the road to maintain links between the UN's Sarajevo headquarters and its Bosnia Command in the town of Kiseljak.

General Rose, a former SAS commander, told reporters he had no compunction about being tougher with the militias and gangs who have severely disrupted the UN's humanitarian operations. 'If they shoot at us we'll shoot back, and I have no hesitation about that whatsoever,' he said.

About 2.7 million Bosnians - Muslims, Croats and Serbs - are dependent on UN aid to survive the second winter of the 22-month-old war that has left about 200,000 dead or missing. All sides have used food aid as a weapon, blocking UN convoys to rival factions.

The number of people threatened by famine in Bosnia is rising because of blocked food convoys, with only half the available supplies getting through, the World Food Programme warned yesterday. It said the population of central Bosnia was most at risk following delivery of only 28 per cent of its food needs in December.

The UN faced problems elsewhere in Bosnia when the Serbs refused to allow an aid convoy to enter the besieged Muslim enclave of Maglaj.

In Copenhagen, Denmark's Foreign Minister, Niels Helveg Petersen, said his government would propose sanctions against Croatia at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers next Monday. The proposal, which won support from Italy's Foreign Minister, Beniamino Andreatta, is intended to punish Croatia for sending troops into Bosnia in support of Bosnian Croat forces fighting the Muslims.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, told the Security Council on Wednesday that 3,000 to 5,000 Croatian troops were in central and southern Bosnia.

According to Spanish UN troops in southern Bosnia, Croatian forces fired 1,400 shells into the Muslim-held sector of Mostar last month, while the Muslims fired only 75 back. Lieutenant-General Jean Cot, the French commander of UN forces in the former Yugoslavia, said no Muslim provocation could justify the Croats' pounding of eastern Mostar.

UN personnel in Bosnia dismiss Croatia's claims that 'volunteers', and no regular troops, are in the region. The Bosnian government has demanded sanctions against Croatia, but it is possible that EU foreign ministers will fail to approve Denmark's proposal when they meet in Brussels.

Some EU governments believe sanctions would jeopardise UN operations in the former Yugoslavia and remove the EU's leverage over Croatia, making a settlement of the war even harder to reach.