UN ultimatum on aid for Bosnia

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SARAJEVO - The United Nations Security Council last night demanded that all warring parties in Bosnia allow relief supplies to be distributed immediately, after Serbian militia stopped a crucial relief convoy in the republic.

In the capital, Sarajevo, Bosnian troops defending key suburbs threw reinforcements into battle, resisting tank, artillery and infantry attacks by Serbian siege forces.

The demand came after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, had announced the suspension of aid to most parts of the republic, in frustration at the blocking of attempts to reach besieged civilians.

In a statement read at a formal meeting, the council condemned the blocking of convoys and demanded that 'the parties and all others concerned allow immediate and unimpeded access to humanitarian relief supplies'. Without mentioning either Bosnian Serbs or Muslims by name, it demanded that all parties give Ms Ogata the guarantees she has sought to resume relief aid immediately.

Ms Ogata had said she was ordering the suspension because of political interference in the UNHCR's humanitarian work. 'I have done everything I can to persuade leaders to distinguish humanitarian aid from the conflict,' Ms Ogata said. 'But . . . they have not allowed us to carry out our mandate.'

Local representatives of the UNHCR had vowed that relief trucks blockaded by Serbian militias would not be pulled back to Belgrade. It once again highlighted the difficulties of bringing humanitarian relief to war-battered Bosnia. One convoy, destined for the village of Cerska, has been halted at the Drina river frontier between Bosnia and Serbia since Sunday. Another, trying to reach Gorazde, was allowed to cross the border on Tuesday but the trucks were stopped by the Serbs inside eastern Bosnia yesterday.

The Bosnian government continued its week-old boycott of UN aid supplies for the capital in protest at the failure to get supplies through to the east, where an estimated 100,000 Muslims have been cut off by the Serbs. The Sarajevo fighting raged around Stup and Azici, two suburbs on the western flank of the city's vital airport road. Serbian forces have been trying to overrun the two places for a week.

In other Sarajevo action, shells hit a hospital in the city and its main bakery. The hospital said two people were wounded when a shell hit one of its clinics. Sarajevo radio said one person was killed at the bakery, but staff at the plant said they did not know of any deaths.

The two suburbs, about 6km (4 miles) from the centre of Sarajevo, are the last government-held areas west of the main highway which links the city with the airport. If they fall, the Serbs will control the vital road. The Serbian news agency SRNA said that Serbian-held Ilidza, next to Stup, came under heavy artillery and mortar bombardment in the morning.

With temperatures at midday hovering around freezing, both the defenders and besiegers of Sarajevo were without heat, light or main water supplies. The fighting has damaged utility lines and pipes shared by the warring sides and the UN peace-keepers were trying to arrange a ceasefire so that they could be repaired.

ROME - Italy presented a proposal to the UN yesterday for an international court to try those accused of war crimes in former Yugoslavia, Reuter reports.

The plan calls for an independent tribunal of 18 judges from different countries to be formed by a resolution of the UN Security Council. Because Italy opposes the death penalty, it recommended the court use laws of the former Yugoslavia, which provide for a maximum prison term of 21 years, as a reference point for punishments. 'The crimes committed in the ex-Yugoslavia cannot remain unpunished in front of the world,' said Italy's Foreign Minister, Emilio Colombo.

(Photograph omitted)