UN begs Serbs to stop killings

Balkan conflict: Western alliance in a quandary over troop commitment 8 Fears grow for missing Muslims around Banja Luka



The trench warfare has stopped - at least for the time being - under the terms of the Bosnian ceasefire brokered by Washington, but there is concern that a campaign against civilians is continuing, particularly in Serb-held northern Bosnia. United Nations officials, who have beseeched the Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, to adhere to the part of the agreement which requires the humane treatment of civilians, fear for the safety of several thousand Muslims and Croats missing in the area.

Since mid-August more than 30,000 non-Serbs have been expelled from the northern Bosnia, but the expulsions stopped suddenly 10 days ago, when two big towns fell to government forces, leaving at least 2,000 more non- Serbs, mostly men of draft age, in Serb hands. "I would be happier if the expulsions began again," one UN official said. "At least we would know then that they are alive."

The numbers are sketchy, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but the agency believes that between 8,000 and 20,000 Muslims and Croats still remain in northern Bosnia of a pre-war population of more than half a million.

UNHCR officials based in Banja Luka have virtually no freedom to move around the area, and have no idea how the last-ditch battles for Sanski Most and Mrkonjic Grad have affected the situation.

The fighting hindered the expulsions - UNHCR officials said the Serbs were too busy with the war effort - but the agency had expected the flow of refugees to resume last week. At least 1,000 people were due to cross the front line near Teslic, but never appeared.

"We know more people were rounded up than came away, especially men, who were separated," one UNHCR official said. "We're frightened some have been killed."

A Bosnian Serb dissident, Vladimir Srebrov, a writer and founder member of Mr Karadzic's SDS party, but who was seized by the Serbs in 1992 and sentenced to prison for treason, said yesterday that he had been jailed near Sarajevo with 136 people from Prijedor, in northern Bosnia. Mr Srebrov was released on Saturday as part of the ceasefire deal.

The UNHCR envoy, Anne-Willem Bijeveld, last week asked Mr Karadzic to stop the atrocities in northern Bosnia.

The appeal was repeated by the US human rights envoy, John Shattuck. "We make an urgent appeal to the Bosnian Serb leadership to stop these horrors," said Mr Shattuck, who has interviewed some of the Muslims and Croats expelled from the area.

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