The first group of Serbs should leave the Muslim-held town in eastern Bosnia today, said Izumi Nakamitsu, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 'This is the first stage,' Ms Nakamitsu said. 'Four hundred and fifty Serbs have asked to leave,' she added.
Before being evacuated, each Serb will be interviewed to determine their will to leave, the UNHCR spokeswoman said. Thirty-one people need medical treatment outside Bosnia and 15 are Serbian nationals, she said. However, Ms Nakamitsu refused to comment on an exchange between the Serbs stuck in Tuzla and Muslims in Srebrenica. 'The HCR acted under the principle of freedom of movement,' Ms Nakamitsu said.
None the less, seven French UN helicopters, five Pumas and two Gazelles, were at the Tuzla airport yesterday preparing to evacuate the most seriously wounded from Srebrenica. Two British Sea King helicopters should arrive today. According to local information provided to the UN protection forces (UNprofor), there are 300 wounded and the Srebrenica hospital has only room for 100. The airlift could start today, a UN spokesman, Major Jose 'Pepe' Gallegos, said yesterday.
Earlier yesterday, General Philippe Morillon, the UN commander in Bosnia, had strongly criticised Muslim forces for blocking the evacuation of Serbs from Tuzla. The Muslims' 'bad will' was blocking an accord reached earlier to evacuate the Serbs, Gen Morillon said. The French general, who camped out in Srebrenica for a week awaiting the arrival of a UN humanitarian aid convoy, threatened to do the same in Tuzla if the Muslims did not co-operate.
A Bosnian Serb leader, Biljana Plavsic, assured Gen Morillon that a ceasefire would be issued today to allow the safe passage of a UN aid convoy to Srebrenica, which has been blocked for four days. A French field hospital had also not been allowed through. Bosnian Serbs had earlier indicated that they would not allow any more road convoys through as long as Serbs in Tuzla were not allowed to leave.
Last night, however, Serbian forces were reported to have refused to allow Gen Morillon to return to Srebrenica from his talks with Serbian leaders in Zvornik. The general was to spend the night in Banja Koviljaca, a village in Serbia, and try to return to Srebrenica this morning.
In New York last night the Security Council postponed once again a vote on a resolution approving military action to enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia. The Council is considering a French-proposed resolution that authorises UN member states to take all necessary measures to police the no-fly zone.
In Brussels, Nato military authorities asked the Western allies for a list of forces available to enforce the flight ban. The United States, France, Britain and the Netherlands were considered likely to offer 50 to 100 fighters to help keep the skies over Bosnia clear of warplanes.
At a meeting yesterday, Nato's military committee formally asked member states to identify the forces they would provide for the operation, officials said. They predicted a quick response from the nations, possibly at a meeting today of allied ambassadors.