Nine killed in crush to escape Srebrenica siege

UNITED NATIONS aid workers suspended the evacuation of Muslims from Srebrenica yesterday after nine people were killed in a stampede to leave the besieged eastern Bosnian town, writes Tony Barber.

Two children were crushed to death when about 2,000 desperate refugees rushed to climb on to a convoy of 19 UN trucks leaving the town. Five more children and two women died, apparently from suffocation, during the 60-mile journey to Tuzla, a Bosnian government stronghold in the north.

One young girl saw her cousin suffocate to death. 'When we left the people were pushing and someone fell on her and then more people fell on her,' she said. 'She couldn't get up because there was so many people and after an hour she died.'

'Apparently the level of panic and desperation to get out from Srebrenica reached an all-time high last night and this morning,' said a UN official. 'There was a mad rush and stampede on to the trucks. The local community has lost all confidence in the ability of the United Nations to protect them.'

When the convoy arrived at a Serbian checkpoint, Serbian soldiers lobbed snowballs to the cold and exhausted Muslims to ease their thirst. The refugees, crammed standing into the trucks with no room to move, had eaten and drunk nothing throughout the day.

Muslim forces then delayed the convoy's entry into Tuzla for two hours, angry that the UN had evacuated so many from Srebrenica. Bosnia's government, though while anxious to rescue the wounded, opposes mass evacuations on the grounds that this amounts to complicity in Serbian expulsions of Muslims.

Some UN staff claim Srebrenica is on the point of falling, but a Sarajevo Radio journalist in the town said such fears were exaggerated.