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Bosnian Serbs Hijack Nine U.N. Relief Trucks

March 24, 1994

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ U.N. workers negotiated with Bosnian Serbs today to try to recover nine U.N. trucks hijacked while carrying food and medicine to the besieged northern town of Maglaj.

The first relief convoy in five months got through to the Muslim town Sunday. But Serb gunmen stopped another U.N. convoy Wednesday and terrorized the drivers before driving off with the trucks, a U.N. official said.

The International Red Cross said it got 60 tons of supplies, mostly food, into Maglaj in six trucks Wednesday.

But that success was overshadowed by the raid on the U.N. convoy.

Peter Kessler, a U.N. spokesman, told reporters the hijacking was the work of a renegade Serb commander.

The Danish drivers were lined up at gunpoint and ordered to empty their pockets, he said. They ″were sure they would be shot.″

The Serbs showed the drivers a narrow path through a minefield and ordered them to walk toward Bosnian Croat lines, while being warned of snipers, Kessler said.

He said Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic had expressed regret and promised an investigation.

Three U.N. aid workers traveling with the hijacked convoy were talking to Bosnian Serbs to try to recover the stolen goods and trucks.

The convoy of 10 trucks carrying relief supplies left Zagreb, Croatia, on Tuesday, threading its way through Serb-held territory in Croatia and northern Bosnia toward Maglaj.

Bosnian Serbs stopped the convoy about 10 miles from Maglaj. The gunmen threw medicine into a nearby river and packed food into their own trucks before seizing the U.N. vehicles, said Kris Janowski, a U.N. spokesman.

Three relief workers who were with the convoy when it was stopped went to Teslic, a nearby Serb checkpoint, to talk with Serb leaders there, Kessler said.

When they wanted to return to the convoy they ″were told that they will be shot if they try,″ he said.

The three saw the hijacked trucks being driven through Teslic with all U.N. marks removed, he said. They recovered one truck, whose civilian driver fled. The other nine trucks are still missing.

Bosnia’s three warring sides signed an agreement in November guaranteeing safe passage to humanitarian convoys.

Maglaj, a town of 19,000 people, has been under siege for nine months. Serb and Croat forces have often refused to let aid convoys pass, leaving the town reliant on airdropped supplies.

Meanwhile in Sarajevo today, a handful of civilians lucky enough to get the complex permissions needed were able to cross over the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge between Serb- and government-held territory.

″It may not look like a big deal, but to us it’s a big deal,″ said Viktor Andreev, U.N. chief of civil affairs in Bosnia. The ultimate goal is ″to make the city an open city″ again, he said.

The bridge opened to civilians Wednesday for the first time since war broke nearly two years ago.

The next step is to open the road between Sarajevo and Mostar, about 50 miles to the southwest. That is being delayed by negotiations over releasing prisoners of war, Andreev said.

A U.N. worker investigating human rights abuses said Bosnian Serbs continue to drive non-Serbs from the region around their northwestern stronghold of Banja Luka.

Before the war, there were about 550,000 non-Serbs in the area, said Joran Bjallerstedt. Today, just 45,000 to 50,000 Muslims and 25,000 to 30,000 Croats remain, he said.

More than 200,000 people are dead or missing in Bosnia’s war, which erupted in April 1992 when armed Serbs rebelled over a Muslim-Croat vote to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

The Muslim-Croat alliance, which broke apart a year ago in fierce fighting for territory not held by the Serbs, has reformed under pressure from Washington.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic urged his assembly today to reject offers to join the new Muslim-Croat federation. Karadzic demanded a separate Serb state, although he allowed the possibility that the Bosnian Serb state could forge links with the federation.

The self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb parliament was still to vote on the issue, but it was unlikely to go against Karadzic’s recommendation.

Update hourly