Red Cross Still Barred from Camps, Despite Security Council Backing With PM-Yugoslavia, Bjt
GENEVA (AP) _ The warring factions in Bosnia-Herzegovina are still denying the Red Cross access to detention camps despite pressure from the U.N. Security Council, a Red Cross spokeswoman said today.
Meanwhile, an uproar broke out over allegations that the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and U.N. peacekeepers have known of Serb atrocities and not reported them to the U.N. Security Council.
The Associated Press and other news organizations obtained a confidential peacekeepers’ memo that said U.N. observers saw Muslims being rounded up by Serbs at a football field in Bosnia-Herzegonina.
At U.N. headquarters today, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees appeared at a sometimes heated news conference to defend his agency against charges of not making such reports public, or passing them on to the U.N. Security Council.
Red Cross spokeswoman Christina Fedele said although both the Muslim-led government and the leader of the Bosnian Serbs had told journalists that humanitarian agencies were free to check on internment conditions, the Red Cross had received no official confirmation.
She said without full access, the Swiss-based humanitarian agency was unable to say whether reports of Nazi-style concentration camps and systematic killings were true or just part of the ethnic propaganda war.
″It is impossible to know how many camps there are, how many deaths, how many injuries and how to separate fact from fiction,″ she said.
The Red Cross has so far visited 4,030 prisoners in nine camps in Bosnia. Six of these are in Croatian hands, two are Serb-run and one is in Muslim-held territory, Ms. Fidele said.
The Red Cross is particularly anxious to visit Serb-run camps in Brcko and Omarska. New York Newsday on Sunday quoted survivors as reporting mass executions and starvation of prisoners in Serb-run camps in Omarska, in the republic’s northwest and in Brcko, in the northeast.
Ms. Fedele said conditions were ″very difficult″ in camps so far visited by the Red Cross, although delegates had found no evidence of mass executions or other atrocities.
She declined to give further details, saying this would jeopardize access to more prisoners. The neutral agency does not publish its reports despite criticism that this helps human rights abusers escape international condemnation.
″All sides are equally guilty; we are having the same problems with all sides in getting access to detention centers,″ Ms. Fedele said.
Red Cross officials have criticized the availability of food and sanitary conditions at the camps.
Despite Red Cross insistence that Muslims and Croats are as responsible as the Serbs for the war horrors, Serbian forces have attracted most of the public criticism.
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday demanded that all sides in the conflict in former Yugoslavia open up their prisoner-of-war camps to inspection by the Red Cross.
Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, both implied on Wednesday that they would comply with this demand.
Meanwhile, there were reports that some U.N. representatives may have known of the existence of concentration camps for weeks, but did little about them.
The U.N. peacekeepers’ memo described a football field in Bosnia as clearly visible to U.N. observers in neighboring Croatia.
″We believe the football field detainees are only a tip of the iceberg involving the concerted action of local Serbian authorities in BH (Bosnia- Herzegovina) trying to establish a Serbian Republic of BH, free of Muslims,″ the U.N. official wrote in the July 3 memo. The signature was obliterated.
″Apparently, the football field is the holding ground where Muslim groups are detained while their houses are being ‘searched,’ the men isolated and transported to concentration camps,″ it said.
U.N. officials in New York told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the chief U.N. peacekeeper in former Yugoslavia, Lt.-Gen. Satish Nambiar of India, had failed to relay allegations of torture and death camps to the group’s headquarters.
But in Zagreb, Croatia, today, Fred Eckhard, Nambiar’s spokesman, denied the peacekeeping chief had failed to pass on information. He said Nambiar had very little information on the camps, and that much of it was second-hand.
″But information he had was reported in detail to ICRC and to UNHCR, so we shared whatever information we had with them,″ Eckhard said.
Newsday reported today that the office of the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees also assembled a compilation of such reports and did not send it on to New York.
But the refugee agency, in a statement issued in Vienna today, said it met with U.N., Red Cross and European Community officials in early July to share information ″on the alleged abuse of prisoners in Bosnia-Herzegovina.″
At U.N. headquarters in New York today, UNHCR representative Albert Peters told reporters: ″Of course, we pass on information.″ But he indicated the agency was sharing information only with the Red Cross, which he said had the power to act.