Letter: Civilian aid workers at risk in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
Sir: Thank you for your remarks on the growing threat to aid workers in Bosnia ('Deaths challenge UN policy', 2 June). Sadly, your leading article is largely correct in noting that 'the men in blue helmets cannot effectively protect humanitarian workers'.

It is now widely accepted among relief volunteers that UN operational guidelines in Bosnia are so timid that militiamen feel they are able to attack aid convoys with impunity. For instance, three convoys recently sent out by our Oxford-based charity were held up by Croatian HVO militiamen, who took the British drivers to detention centres, where they were beaten and kicked under the supervision of senior officers. Given the nature of the UN's present mandate, it would be too optimistic to expect the UN to prevent the recurrence of such outrages.

In this context, you are also right to question the usefulness of the Joint Action Plan announced in Washington on 22 May. Whatever its political merits, this document must be considered the most serious setback to the aid effort since the commencement of the war.

By envisaging the progressive confinement of mainly Muslim refugees in 'safe areas', but excluding the possibility of US action to prevent the conquest of those areas by the besiegers or even to fire back at snipers who target refugees, it has ensured that the humanitarian tragedy will continue indefinitely, and that British and other charities will continue to send relief supplies into areas that are, in reality, anything but 'safe'.

The Government has decided that the lives of British soldiers must not be risked in Bosnia. As a charity, we adopt no stance on such political decisions. But we feel compelled to express our deep anger at official reluctance to advocate solutions which will protect those British civilians who, for no financial reward, risk their lives to bring relief to those in need.

Yours sincerely,

CHRIS PAUL

Convoy Co-ordinator

Bosnia Aid Committee of Oxford

Oxford

2 June

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