Urgent plea to save Srebrenica refugees

UNLESS the United Nations acts immediately to increase its forces in Bosnia or organises mass evacuations from the besieged town of Srebrenica, the survival of tens of thousands of refugees is now is serious doubt, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, yesterday warned the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Mrs Ogata urged the international community and the UN Security Council 'to take more drastic action, because time is running out'. The Security Council issued a statement expressing shock at the worsening plight of the refugees and asking the Secretary-General to take 'immediate steps to increase the UN presence in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina to reinforce the humanitarian aid effort'.

In a dramatic letter to Mr Boutros-Ghali, Mrs Ogata said the population of the town of Srebrenica had swelled from 6,000 to between 20,000 and 30,000, with another 30,000 in the surrounding area.

The refugees were desperate, believing they 'had no other prospect than death if they remain where they are'. They were sure the ceasefire would not hold and the Bosnian Serbs would overrun Srebrenica. Mrs Ogata said UN relief convoys continued to be held up by the Serbs, and yesterday a UN convoy abandoned the latest attempt to reach Srebrenica when it was blocked in nearby Bratunac. A ham radio operator in Srebrenica reported attacks yesterday by Serbian soldiers under a blanket of artillery fire.

Mrs Ogata suggested two options for the UN. 'The first is immediately to enhance the international presence of UN forces in order to turn the enclave into an area protected by the UN, and inject life-sustaining assistance on a scale much greater than is being permitted at the moment. Such an option would require the strongest political pressure from the international community on the Serbian side.' Failing that, 'the only other option would be to organise a large-scale evacuation of the endangered population of Srebrenica'.

In Bileca yesterday, the Bosnian Serb parliament overwhelmingly rejected the UN-sponsored peace plan for Bosnia. The US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, called the Bosnian Serbs' rejection of the plan 'regrettable' but raised the possibility that the plan could be adjusted to fit Serb concerns.

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