Ukrainian UN troops quit Gorazde 'safe haven'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

One-third of the United Nations force in Gorazde - 90 Ukrainian soldiers - pulled out of the isolated Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia, and so- called UN "safe area", on Wednesday night. The remaining 170 British soldiers of the Royal Welch Fusiliers will leave in mid-September, when the UN presence will be down to a few dozen unarmed military observers.

UN sources in Sarajevo say the withdrawal of ground troops will not make Gorazde less secure, as Nato could launch air attacks in response to a Serb attack. But they admit that local Muslims may be in more danger, as the threshold for air attacks remained high.

The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres called the withdrawal a "blatant contradiction of the various international commitments on protecting the enclave".

Last month the UN said it was determined to defend Gorazde, one of four remaining UN "safe areas" after the collapse of Srebrenica and Zepa. But last week it announced that it was pulling out all armed ground troops.

The other three areas look relatively secure. The former enclave of Bihac, in north-west Bosnia, was relieved by the recent Croat offensive in Krajina, while Tuzla and Sarajevo are larger and less isolated.

The Ukrainians yesterday were on their way to Belgrade. There were reports that the commanding officer and an aide had to remain behind as the local Bosnian authorities were demanding 20,000 German Marks, which they said the UN owed them as "rent" and as "compensation" for environmental damage. But last night the UN in Zagreb said all 90 Ukrainian peace-keepers were out of the area.

Elsewhere, the front lines in Bosnia and Croatia were quiet. UN sources said the two French guns that engaged Serb mortars near Sarajevo on Tuesday night had hit their targets. Croat forces near the Adriatic city of Dubrovnik were on stand-by to attack Serb positions threatening the city, but took no action.

Croatia's Foreign Minister, Mate Granic, said in Vienna: "We are waiting for the American peace plan . If we get the protection [around Dubrovnik] from the initiative we will strongly welcome that."

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said the UN force in Croatia would be cut to 2,500 following the Serbs' retreat although two battalions will remain in the disputed area of eastern Slavonia.