THE SIEGE / Bosnian town's diary of despair: As the ravaged town of Srebrenica comes under heavy shelling, the world's politicians debate its future

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The Independent Online
THE SIEGE of Srebrenica began just over a year ago, in April 1992, when Bosnian Serbs opposed to the republic's independence took up arms against the local Muslim and Croatian communities.

The embattled residents were left to survive without outside help for more than seven months, until the United Nations, on its third try, took a 22-truck food convoy into the town on 28 November. A second shipment of aid arrived two weeks later, but the reprieve was temporary; surrounding Serbian forces blocked all further supplies.

The town weathered the winter unaided. On 23 February, the Srebrenica War Council reported that 2,149 people had died from sickness or hunger. Another 2,562 had been killed in the fighting and 14,350 were injured. A week later, the United States began air drops of food to Bosnia. On 6 March five US cargo planes dropped 27 tons of food around Srebrenica and the nearby Muslim town of Konjevic Polje. At the same time, Simon Mardel of the World Health Organisation visited eastern Bosnia with General Philippe Morillon, the UN force commander, and reported 20 to 30 were dying in Srebrenica daily.

It seemed that salvation was at hand on 13 March, when General Morillon broadcast a statement from Srebrenica demanding a cessation of the Serbian offensive and the opening of land corridors to the besieged city. The general said he was staying on as a gesture of solidarity with local people. Six days later a UN convoy, led by General Morillon, reached Srebrenica after lengthy negotiations with the Bosnian Serb forces. Thousands of Muslims mobbed the convoy carrying the sick and wounded as it prepared to leave for Tuzla the next day. Nearly 700 refugees scrambled aboard the empty trucks.

A second UN convoy, delayed for more than two weeks by Serbian and Bosnian Serb authorities, reached the town on 28 March. Scenes of chaos surrounded the evacuation the following day of more than 2,000 Muslims. Two people, including a baby, died in the scramble. UN officials suspended the evacuations on 31 March, after two women and five children in the convoy were crushed to death en route to Tuzla, the Muslim government stronghold in the north.

By 5 April, the UN had announced plans to move up to 15,000 refugees out of Srebrenica, and two days later the town's leaders authorised the departure of 1,600 women and children.

On 9 April, local Muslim leaders, claiming that the UN evacuation plans were tantamount to 'ethnic cleansing', refused to allow any more civilians to leave.

On 12 April, Bosnian Serb forces shelled the town, killing at least 56 people and wounding more than 70. What may prove to have been the last, lucky group of 800 refugees were taken out by UN trucks on 13 April.