Advertisement

U.N. Fears Mass Starvation in Yet Another Bosnia City

September 05, 1993|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Croatian nationalist forces have swept more than 10,000 Muslim civilians into a new ethnic ghetto in the city of Jablanica over the past two weeks, creating what Western aid officials described Saturday as another humanitarian nightmare beyond their reach.

A U.N. refugee official who managed to get into the besieged and blockaded mountain city said some of the Muslims who had been expelled from Croat-held areas in the south of this war-torn country were so emaciated they looked "like concentration camp victims from the Second World War."

This field officer of the U.N. high commissioner for refugees was sent to Jablanica to investigate assertions that Croatian forces had fired on the Muslims as they deported them. He reported back to the agency staff here that he found a trail of abandoned suitcases, clothes and other goods after the last Croatian checkpoint on the deportation route, "indicating the civilians had fled in terror," said agency spokesman Ray Wilkinson.

The U.N. aid agency charged with feeding and housing Bosnia's swelling legions of hungry and homeless has been unable to truck relief goods into the Jablanica area for weeks, raising fears that the isolated town on one of Bosnia's most volatile ethnic fault lines could become the scene of mass starvation, Wilkinson said.

"Many people are already begging for bread on the streets," he said of Jablanica, which was overcrowded even before the current deluge of refugees, who fled Sarajevo 17 months ago when Serbian nationalist forces began shelling the capital.

Jablanica has become the latest dumping ground for Muslims expelled by Serbian and Croatian nationalists trying to take as much Bosnian territory as possible ahead of a U.N.-brokered plan to divide the republic into ethnic ministates.

Serbs have already seized more than 70% of Bosnia, and Croats have conquered much of the rest in the vicious conflict that has taken 200,000 lives and made 2 million homeless.

Most of the recent arrivals in Jablanica are women, children and old people, but they include 450 adult male Muslims who had been held since June at the notorious Drecelj detention camp that Bosnian Croat extremists loyal to warlord Mate Boban set up to prevent Muslim men from defending their families against forced displacement.

"Many of the male detainees had broken fingers and bruises to the upper body from prison beatings," Wilkinson said, reading from the refugee agency investigator's report.

The dispatch from Jablanica, the latest in a sheaf of documented human rights disasters, prompted new appeals among aid workers in Bosnia for stronger action to protect civilians from atrocities the like of which Europe has not witnessed since the Holocaust.

Mediators for the United Nations and the European Community have been warning since Bosnian peace talks collapsed last week that an escalation in fighting and brutality against civilians is likely unless the combatants resume negotiations on an ethnic division.

Bosnia's Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, hinted during a visit to Turkey that the Geneva-based talks might resume in two weeks, after he and other Bosnian leaders have had a chance to discuss their situation with President Clinton and the U.N. Security Council.

But Izetbegovic made clear that he will continue to insist on an outlet to the Adriatic Sea and restoration of some traditional Muslim lands that have fallen victim to "ethnic cleansing."

Boban and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic rejected the government's demands, prompting Izetbegovic to abandon the Geneva talks Wednesday.

The Clinton Administration threatened Croats and Serbs with air strikes by North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces if they continue to attack government-held cities like Sarajevo and Mostar.

This shattered and economically strangled capital remained relatively quiet Saturday, with only sporadic rifle and machine-gun fire, but Mostar and areas of central Bosnia were under attack by Croatian forces, U.N. military sources reported.

The fighting forced closure of routes used by aid convoys to central Bosnia and Sarajevo, said Maj. Ides van Biesebroeck, spokesman for the U.N. Protection Force in Bosnia.

NATO officials have threatened air strikes on any faction that persists in blocking humanitarian aid as a weapon against civilians.

Van Biesebroeck conceded that much of the U.N. work is still being thwarted by the armed factions, but he said military commanders here oppose the use of air power against the belligerents because that might expose some of the 10,000 U.N. troops on the ground to retaliatory actions.

Bosnian government officials have called for withdrawal of the U.N. forces if NATO would then take action to break the deadly sieges of Sarajevo and other cities where inhabitants oppose ethnic segregation.

The question of air strikes against the Serbian artillery surrounding the capital has repeatedly surfaced, only to be defeated each time by resistance from U.N. commanders.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|