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U.N. Scrambles to Cope With “Humanitarian Disaster″

July 13, 1995

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The United Nations scrambled today to erect makeshift shelters and rush aid to thousands of Muslims driven out of the first U.N. ``safe area″ to fall to rebel Serbs.

The Serbs, who continued the expulsions today, were rounding up males from the overrun Srebrenica enclave _ and some refugees said the Serbs had taken away boys as young as 7.

Serb troops marched into Srebrenica on Tuesday and in another humiliating blow to the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, overtook the town, which had been designated a U.N.-protected area for the past two years.

Up to 40,000 Muslims fled or were driven from their homes, seeking shelter at Potocari, a village housing a small U.N. base. On Wednesday, Serb tanks and guns surrounded the village and began deporting the refugees to government-held territory.

``This is a humanitarian disaster,″ said Alemka Lisinski, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

More than 2,000 refugees were taken to the northern government stronghold of Tuzla, where they spent Wednesday night at the U.N.-controlled airport.

Unprepared for the influx, there was no accommodation for the refugees, and most slept on buses or the tarmac, Lisinski said.

The relief agency rushed to erect tents on the airfield and get food convoys to the area, while peacekeepers distributed sleeping bags, water and prepackaged rations. ``But this is hardly a long-term solution,″ Lisinski said.

Refugees who made it to Tuzla in the first convoy Wednesday night were exhausted, distraught, hungry and thirsty. The Bosnian government, furious that the United Nations had failed to protect its own designated ``safe area,″ refused to help the refugees.

The government said ``the refugees are now the problem of the U.N.,″ said Capt. Harald Kjaerstad, a U.N. spokesman in Tuzla.

An additional 3,500 refugees who crossed the front line during the night were still in Kladanj, a government-held town 30 miles west of Srebrenica, waiting for transport to Tuzla, 20 miles farther north.

U.N. spokesman Rida Ettarashany said two more convoys, carrying an unknown number of refugees, left this morning from the U.N. base at Potocari.

The deportations from Potocari were overseen by Bosnian Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic. Mladic said all males older than 16 would be detained and ``screened for war crimes,″ U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said.

But as buses unloaded in Tuzla, it was obvious there were only very old men and very young boys on board with the women and children. Reporters were kept outside the airport, but some refugees who approached the fence said Serbs had seized all males over 6.

Most fighting-age men had fled into the woods and mountains west of Srebrenica. U.N. officials had no information on the fate of the men and boys separated from the refugees in Potocari.

Tuzla, with 60,000 refugees already among its population of 132,000, is full of former Srebrenica residents, evacuated after a previous Serb onslaught. Many rushed to the airport, handed out sandwiches and called out the names of villages to refugees getting off the buses, hoping someone would have news of their relatives.

Senaki Begovic, 27, who had been evacuated from Srebrenica two years ago when he was wounded by shrapnel, embraced his wife, Mejra, 22. They had only communicated through brief letters delivered by the Red Cross.

``I don’t know if I’m the happiest man in the world to be reunited with my wife or the saddest because I don’t know if I’ve lost my brother,″ he said.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday demanded that the Serbs withdraw from Srebrenica and called on U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to ``use all resources available″ to restore the ``safe area.″

But opinion was polarized over whether force would achieve that goal or trigger a withdrawal of the 23,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia.

French Defense Minister Charles Millon blasted U.N. handling of the Srebrenica siege and said today that if peacekeepers didn’t take a stand now ``we really don’t see what we’re doing in Bosnia.″ He said France was prepared to help use force.

But Thorvald Stoltenberg, the U.N. negotiator for former Yugoslavia, said using force ``will make it impossible for the U.N. to fulfill its mandate.″

``The moment the U.N. is party to the conflict, it really cannot be the impartial peacekeeper,″ Stoltenberg said in Vienna, Austria. ``Using force ... could lead to a pullout.″

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said any attempt to re-establish the Srebrenica safe zone ``would mean war with the Serbs.″

His spokesman Jovan Zametica suggested that the eastern town of Gorazde could be the next of the five remaining ``safe areas″ to fall.

``If the Muslims in Gorazde continue with their violent acts, if they continue to shelter behind the safe area ... that is what we are going to do,″ he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

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