UN under fire over Gorazde reports

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - The United Nations Protection Force command has understated the gravity of a Serbian offensive into the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Gorazde, UN military observers in the region have complained.

The accusation emerged in confidential despatches by UN military monitors and a UN civilian doctor leaked to reporters yesterday in Sarajevo, where the UN peace-keeping force command in Bosnia is based.

A 10-day Serbian artillery, tank and infantry attack into the government enclave in eastern Bosnia has killed 67 people and wounded 325, mostly civilians, says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The monitors and the UN doctor took issue with international media reports on the Serbian offensive which they said quoted senior Unprofor officers and press spokesmen as saying the Serbian attack was 'tactical' and 'not serious'.

The doctor's cable also attacked a statement by the United States' top general that Nato air strikes to disable Serbian forces attacking Gorazde would not work because artillery did not appear to be a main factor in the fighting.

Virtually every casualty had been caused by artillery explosions, the doctor reported from Gorazde.

'The death toll continues to rise and serious losses of territory are occurring. If this is 'not serious' as Unprofor seems to say in radio reports, I hope I don't see a serious situation develop,' one monitor said in a report on Tuesday.

'The situation today is again very serious. We have repeated that our assessment of the situation is serious and that the continued potential for loss of civilian life is very high,' the report went on.

'It is very disquieting to hear radio reports from the international media that the situation is not serious. From the BBC world news (on 5 April), we heard: 'An Unprofor assessment said that it was a minor attack into a limited area'. We again do not concur with that position.

'It is a grave situation. It needs to be realised that the city centre of Gorazde is just over three km (1.8 miles) from the Bosnian Serb army front line. Looking at a small land mass on the south-east corner and saying it is a minor attack into a limited area is a bad assessment, incorrect and shows absolutely no understanding of what is going on.' '

Alluding again to Unprofor statements carried by news media, the UN doctor's despatch said: 'The (Gorazde) city population is very depressed by the current situation and what is said about it in the international news broadcasts.'

The US and its Nato allies are urging the UN to dispatch quickly hundreds of Ukrainian and other peace-keepers to Gorazde, Washington said yesterday.

British and French peace-keepers may be redeployed to join the Ukrainians in trying to protect the town's 65,000 civilians. 'The plan is being put on a fast track,' a senior US official said.

Serbian leaders blame the fighting around Gorazde on Muslim attempts to use the enclave as a base for breaching Serbian positions. The Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, said in Bucharest earlier this week that the UN should ask itself how the Muslims were able to launch an offensive from an enclave that was supposed to be a demilitarised zone.

UN personnel in Gorazde , which has been under Serbian siege for almost two years, reported that there had been more shelling of the enclave early yesterday morning. They said that four shells had landed in the town less than a mile from the offices of the UNHCR.

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