Wounded children wait to leave Sarajevo: Boys cling to life after weekend tragedy

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - United Nations aid officials yesterday feared that Bosnian Serbs would block the evacuation of three badly wounded boys from besieged Sarajevo.

Two brothers wounded by shells that killed six children playing in the snow on Saturday clung to life in hospital, awaiting evacuation to Bologna, Italy today.

A third boy, 16-year-old Amer Menzilovic, wounded in earlier shelling, may lose his sight if he cannot leave today for the United Arab Emirates, said Kris Janowski, a UN aid official.

The Bosnian Serbs had threatened to block medical evacuations from yesterday afternoon if Serb doctors arrested last week as they tried to escape to a Serb-held suburb were not released. The doctors are still in detention.

Mr Janowski said there had been no Serb objection by last night to today's planned evacuations, despite the threat to block them.

At least three children were killed yesterday and five people were wounded in heavy shelling of the Croat section of the key south- western city of Mostar, divided between the Croats and Muslims, the Bosnian Croat spokesman, Vlado Pogarcic, said. There was no UN confirmation, although UN peace- keepers had earlier reported intensifying shelling in Mostar.

UN officials who investigated Saturday's shelling in Sarajevo could not be sure who fired the mortars. Local residents blamed the Serbs. The Bosnian Serb presidency and military leaderships issued denials, insisting the Muslim-led government had shelled its own people to bring outside intervention.

After Saturday's attack, the Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, demanded air strikes against the Serbs who have been besieging Sarajevo for 21 months.

The Bosnian Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, followed up the protest yesterday by writing to the US President Bill Clinton, calling for air raids on Serb artillery positions on hills overlooking the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo radio reported.

'Horror of this kind has been going on for 22 months,' he said. 'Mr President, is there an effective way finally to realise your proposal on lifting the arms embargo against our country and the bombing of Serb positions around Sarajevo?'

Momcilo Krajisnik, leader of the Bosnian Serb assembly, yesterday proposed that all three sides in the war freeze their lines and stop fighting until the next round of Geneva peace talks on 10 February. There was no immediate reaction from the Muslim-led Bosnian government or the Bosnian Croats.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, on a visit to Nato headquarters in Brussels on Friday, urged the Western alliance to use selective air strikes to lift the siege of Sarajevo and open Tuzla airport in central Bosnia.

Nato has already promised to use air power to prevent the strangulation of Sarajevo and UN 'safe areas', including Tuzla and the eastern Muslim enclave of Srebrenica.

But in Paris, the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, said he was confused about the French position on allied strategy and had to confer anew with Britain and Germany.

Asked about a French call for more action, Mr Christopher said: 'I don't know what the French have in mind . . . What I want to find out from them is what the meaning is of their statements to the press . . . They seem to have some new ideas. They are not clear to me and perhaps I can get them straighter when I talk face to face with them.'

Today Mr Christopher is due to meet the French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, who has been consulting European Union partners, urging a new initiative in Bosnia.

There has been little sign that the international community is prepared to step up the Bosnian conflict by launching air strikes. Western nations have in recent days been talking more about pulling their forces out, although the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, said a withdrawal could precipitate greater savagery.

Bosnia appeal, page 30