UN lifeline to Bosnia reaches breaking point

IN A SCHOOL in Travnik, in what was the capital of Ottoman Bosnia, they are running out of baby food. Last week, they received food from a charity, courtesy of the UN protection force. At the time, they had just four days' supplies left. The new food is enough for eight more days.

The classrooms are full of Muslim refugees - or, rather, 'displaced persons'. Refugees have a status in international law that these people - including 210 children, from the newly born to age 12 - have not attained.

Despite the baby-food crisis, Travnik, a Muslim stronghold close to one of the main United Nations routes into central Bosnia, is relatively well off.

Other villages nearby have seen aid deliveries just once since last November. Supplies in Zenica, a Muslim city with 40,000 refugees, will last two more weeks.

The aid operation - the only aspect of UN policy that has had any success in Bosnia - is faltering, and the shortage of supplies will reach crisis point just as people begin to prepare for the winter. Few people died of starvation in Bosnia last winter, thanks in part to the UN's efforts. But they carried plenty of body fat. They are facing this winter without that vital fat, and UN officials fear that scenes reminiscent of Africa may be seen in Europe.

The changing battle-lines and increasing contempt for the international community shown by the local forces have sharply reduced the amount of aid getting through to warehouses.

The UN's supply routes were drawn up with a two-sided conflict - Serbs versus the Croats and Muslims - in mind. The recent intensification of Muslim- Croat fighting and collusion of Serbs and Croats have thrown those calculations awry.

A gruesome example of what can happen took place in early July, when Croat women stopped a convoy - the 'convoy of salvation' taking supplies to Muslims near Novi Travnik. The Muslim truck drivers were stabbed with pitchforks. Surprisingly, there seems to be no shortage of volunteers to drive the trucks. But there is a problem with 'secondary distribution' of supplies to the people who need them; this is a local, not a UN, responsibility. Last week, local police fired shots over people's heads to stop them pillaging the warehouses.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) admits that up to 80 per cent of the aid does not reach those for whom it was intended. But potentially even more serious, the international organisations responsible for supplies reaching the warehouses - including that of the UNHCR - are running out of support and funds. A ship with 43,000 tons of UNHCR supplies on board was yesterday still at sea in the Adriatic, while the UNHCR negotiated with the port authorities at Split in Croatia. They feel the charges demanded are extortionate, but their parsimony is perhaps a symptom of a looming financial crisis.

The UNHCR's chief in the Muslim town of Zenica, Jorge de la Mota, says there are 400,000 displaced persons in his area, and another 400,000 in Tuzla - totals that make a nonsense of the official figures on UN maps. In the Zenica area, he says, there are perhaps 2 million people living at or below subsistence level, and therefore dependent to some extent on outside aid.

In central Bosnia, the magic figure is 1,208 tonnes per day, which gives each person who needs it 530 grams of food a day. The figures are based on feeding 63 per cent of the population, about 2.2 million people. In the past week, UNHCR convoys have averaged about half that. The figures are issued every day: 575 tonnes on 3 July, then 592, 675, 725, 563 . . .

Last Sunday, the Serbs began to demand tolls from supply convoys at Zvornik. Other convoys were held up on routes that were closed by fighting.

Next day, the British escorted 21 UNHCR trucks from Zenica to a warehouse west of Tuzla, where they had to fire 20 warning shots above the heads of the crowd to persuade them not to steal aid from the trucks.

The trucks returned to Tuzla, but there 100 people quickly assembled and stole about six tonnes of wheat flour. Again, the local police could not cope, and the British army had to assist. On Friday, the police said that they had recovered about half the stolen wheat and that 20 arrests had been made.

Fighting between Muslims and Croats interrupted relief convoys on Wednesday and Thursday, between Kiseljak and Visoko. And on Thursday a UN convoy was delayed in Belgrade, awaiting clearance from the Serbs. Although the armoured escort vehicles can brave gunfire and drive over fields on their tracks, the wheeled and soft-skinned aid trucks in the convoys cannot. The only way to proceed is by negotiation.

Last week, the roads east from Vitez were blocked by obstacles, such as trucks with mines under their wheels or straightforward holes swallowing up the entire road, made with a few kilograms of skilfully placed explosives. Mr de La Mota said the UNHCR and the UN protection force were both 'fed up' with the international community's attitude to the Bosnia crisis. 'With the mandate that we have, we cannot do our work,' he said.

And with the softly-softly attitude of the UN forces here in the face of increased local contempt, and, for want of a better phrase, mickey-taking, he said, the international aid organisations would become hostages of the local warlords.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
voices We're advocating a popular capitalism that works for all, not a crony corporatism for just the few
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower