Fear boards the mule train to Mostar: View from a Muslim frontline

ON A clear night over Mostar, Croatian spotlights light up Hum Hill as if it were Cannes during the film festival. The hill dominates the Neretva valley: whoever controls it controls Mostar, and whoever controls Mostar controls the gateway to central Bosnia.

It is Mostar, not Sarajevo, that has been the site of the fiercest fighting in Bosnia during the past six months.

In the cellar of the devastated building that once housed the local tax office, Esad Humo, commander of the 41st Famous Motorised Mostar brigade, sits at the end of a long table, in the dim light supplied by the diesel generator. 'We will win,' he says. 'We have the heart.'

The anxieties of the six- month siege are etched on his face. Trapped on the east side of the city, 20,000 Bosnian Muslims have been desperately fighting to hold on to their positions, under siege from the Croatian HVO in western Mostar.

Amid the burnt remains of Santiceva Street, Bosnian army soldiers sit in damp, dark cellars, peering through holes at an enemy often only metres away. They pass their days waiting, occasionally locating and 'silencing' snipers.

'My mother is wounded. My brother was killed. My father is wounded. I wish I was somewhere else,' says Almir, a tall, thin 20-year-old with red hair and freckles. Most of the soldiers tell similar stories.

Poorly armed and underequipped, the Muslims have devised elaborate ways to get supplies into the enclave. According to army sources, ammunition is flown by Bosnian army helicopter from Zenica in central Bosnia to a hill near Jablanica, about 30 miles north of Mostar. The helicopters also transport the wounded from Mostar but the HVO has to first give its permission. The flights are in violation of the United Nations 'no fly' zone over Bosnia, but the UN does little to stop them.

At the hill near Jablanica, soldiers and residents reload the cargo on to horses and mules. It is impossible to use the main road, and the small mountain trails and village roads have become the lifelines to Mostar.

There are nearly 30 horses and mules in circulation, but the animals need to rest after each run. Only six or seven can carry the load of a convoy at any time. This also depends on the cargo; it is easier to put bullet cases on horseback than heavier mortars and grenades.

The horse journey ends north of Mostar, in the village of Bijelo Polje, where supplies are transferred to cars and taken to town under cover of darkness. The front line runs parallel to the road and any vehicles are shot at by Croatians using anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles. Another hazard is land-mines, left behind by all sides; the area has changed hands many times during the war.

Drivers have to know the route by heart; they drive without lights on the bumpy road where turns are sudden and mistakes probably fatal. Croat searchlights scan the road and light up Hum Hill like a carnival. But however dangerous the night run, to undertake it during the day would be suicide.

The Bosnian army supplements the trickle of supplies by producing weapons locally. One of its inventions is 'Little Thunder', a 62mm fragmentation bomb. The casing is manufactured from the steel tubes used for traffic signs, filled with pieces of metal and glass. The explosive comes from a one-

and-a-half-ton HVO mine that was discovered in a sewer under the Bosnian frontline.

Despite the odds, the Bosnian Muslim soldiers captured the important territory around the villages of Dreznica Gornja and Dreznica Donja, north of Mostar. If they can hold it, they will be able to use the main road for supplies, thus avoiding the mule trains. They are also in a position to shell Listica, a Croatian stronghold to the north-east of the city.

There is hope, too, for a deal with the Bosnian Serbs, who, although not active in the current fighting around Mostar, hold important positions in the area. This would almost certainly tilt the balance of fighting in the Muslims' favour.

The army remains determined. 'We fight for what is ours,' says Commander Humo, 'unlike the newcomers, who are invaders. This makes us stronger and capable of winning.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links