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Muslims Block Evacuation of Besieged Bosnian City

April 11, 1993|From Reuters

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Local Muslim authorities in Srebrenica stopped a U.N. convoy from evacuating refugees from the besieged Bosnian town on Saturday, despite the start of a new U.N.-sponsored cease-fire.

In another setback for relief efforts, U.N. officials suspended aid flights to and from Sarajevo for four days after Serbian forces moved antiaircraft guns within range of the city's airport, a U.N. spokesman said. U.N. forces said later, however, that they found no sign of a Serbian buildup.

In Washington, a team of experts urged the White House to seriously consider military intervention to end the suffering, the New York Times reported today. President Clinton sent the team to Bosnia in February to assess the plight of civilians there.

The 26-member team--made up of State Department and military officials, relief experts and doctors--questioned the West's approach in Bosnia, which has been to deliver food to Muslim towns while refraining from using force to protect the citizens.

But during closed-door congressional briefings this week, the team withheld recommendations on the use of force, at the instruction of senior officials.

Around Srebrenica, which has been blockaded by Serbian forces since civil war erupted between Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croats a year ago, a local cease-fire went into effect at 2 p.m. local time.

It was not immediately clear if the truce, accepted by the Bosnian Serb army on Friday, would hold.

Two mortar bombs crashed into the besieged town just 42 minutes after the cease-fire took effect, according to John McMillan, a spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Sarajevo. But no one was injured in the blasts and, apart from them, the town was quiet.

Desperate Muslim refugees thronged around nine U.N. trucks that brought food and medicine to Srebrenica on Saturday, but the local Muslim authorities prevented them from getting on board because they said they feared the refugees would suffer from exposure in the extreme cold.

"Srebrenica authorities did not want anyone to leave the town and used the uncovered trucks as an excuse," McMillan said. Empty, the convoy later rumbled out of town.

U.N. officials say about 60,000 people are trapped in the Srebrenica "pocket," which includes the town itself and surrounding villages. But local Muslim leaders fear the town will be more vulnerable to capture if the refugees leave.

McMillan also announced the suspension of U.N. relief flights to and from Sarajevo. He said the decision partly reflected concern about a hostile Serbian reaction to U.N. plans to enforce a "no-fly" zone over Bosnia with fighter planes beginning on Monday.

However, the U.N. Protection Force, which controls Sarajevo's airport and was not consulted before the decision, said its monitors had detected no unusual Serbian buildup around the airport.

There was no immediate explanation for the differing assessments, but U.N. relief officials stuck to their position and said flights would be shelved for four days.

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