UN caving in to Serbs over convoys

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The Independent Online
The Bosnian Serbs are wrapping their tentacles ever tighter around the beleaguered UN mission in Bosnia, whose 22,000 troops have been ordered not to resist for fear of escalating the crisis. Washington has denounced conciliatory UN policy, a product of the major powers' reluctance to fight here, but remains unwilling to send in its soldiers.

The UN has agreed to new convoy deals for aid shipments and supplies to troops in the eastern enclaves with the Serb authorities in Pale, giving the Serbs yet another plank with which to block aid, and is under pressure to do the same with convoys to Sarajevo.

Last week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees agreed that Serb police should escort aid to Sarajevo, as Pale had banned UN military escorts. Now the Serbs claim the route is not safe, and are demanding written guarantees from the Bosnian government that the Serb aid warehouse on the front line at Rajlovac will not be shelled.

"The Bosnian Serbs once again are preventing humanitarian aid from going to the other side and to their own people," said Mark Cutts, the head of UNHCR's office in Sarajevo.

Pale has also refused permission for UN supply convoys to Sarajevo, Gorazde, Zepa and Srebrenica, unless they travel via Belgrade through Serb-held territory.

The UN Force Commander, General Bernard Janvier, agreed to comply with this demand as regards the eastern enclaves at a secret meetings with the Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic. UN officials in Zagreb say, without giving details, that General Janvier also agreed to call off Nato air strikes in exchange for the release of almost 400 UN hostages.

The 5,000-odd troops in Sarajevo will run out of food at the end of the month: supplying them via Belgrade is "totally and utterly impracticable", said a UN spokesman. Officials believe that the UN in Zagreb is under pressure to do nothing to upset Pale, and is quite likely to agree to the Belgrade deal this week.

Some in the UN mission had hoped for the opening of a secure aid route into Sarajevo after the deployment of the rapid reaction force. However, a leaked letter from Yasushi Akashi, the UN envoy, to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, promised that the force would not take sides.

Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN, said that the letter was "highly inappropriate".

nBelgrade - Ten people were killed and 12 injured in a powerful explosion in a chemical plant in a Belgrade suburb. The cause of the explosion in the Grmec factory in Zemun was not immediately known.