UN troops rescue aid convoy in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
UNITED NATIONS mine- clearers yesterday rescued a relief convoy trapped in the countryside of eastern Bosnia after delivering aid to the besieged Muslim town of Gorazde.

The convoy of eight trucks had driven through automatic-weapons fire to enter Gorazde and was returning on Saturday evening when it was forced to halt at a road bridge booby-trapped with mines. Three French armoured infantry carriers with sappers on board were sent from Sarajevo to the bridge, about 10 miles north of Gorazde, to rescue the convoy.

It took them about an hour to make the bridge safe. Last night the convoy had reached the comparative safety of Pale, the Serbian stronghold near Sarajevo.

The UN personnel on the stranded convoy had had to spend Saturday night camping in the open countryside because neither the Serbian nor Muslim-Croat forces would take responsibility for clearing the mines. Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said it was not clear who had laid the mines.

The mission was considered a vital test of a UN Security Council resolution passed last week on the use of force to ensure aid reaches Bosnian towns. The UNHCR plans more convoys this week, including one to the Muslim town of Bihac in northern Bosnia, which Serbian forces have blockaded since last October.

Elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina, artillery battles raged in and around Sarajevo over the weekend and Serbian television said that shelling and fighting had broken out in a dozen other towns. Radio Sarajevo, the voice of the Muslim-led government of Bosnia, appealed for blood donors and said certain districts in the capital were going without water and electricity to let hospitals have priority. A surgeon at the Kosevo hospital said three people were killed in Sarajevo on Saturday.

The UN aid convoy to Gorazde succeeded in delivering 46 tons of medical supplies and food, including milk formula for babies. Last month a similar mission failed when a UN convoy was ambushed in a minefield. Gorazde is the last remaining Muslim stronghold in eastern Bosnia and has been under Serbian siege since April. Its population is believed to have swollen from 15,000 to more than 70,000 as Muslim refugees from neighbouring areas have poured in. 'The situation is really dire there,' Mr Redmond said.

It was the first time that the UN had sent a relief mission to Gorazde since the UN Security Council last week authorised the use of military force if necessary to ensure that humanitarian aid reached beleaguered towns in Bosnia. Three armoured cars from the Ukrainian contingent of the UN peace-keeping force in Bosnia accompanied the convoy. They were caught in automatic- weapons crossfire about an hour's drive from Gorazde but pressed on and managed to unload their supplies at the town's hospital.

In Sarajevo, the Children's Embassy, a charity, said a convoy of about 500 women and children was expected to leave the capital soon for Serbia. Last Wednesday, 315 Muslim and Croat women and children left Sarajevo for Croatia and Austria.