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British Soldiers Held by Muslims, Government Accepts Peace Plan

March 12, 1993

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ British soldiers hoping to evacuate sick and wounded from an eastern Bosnian enclave were trapped today by desperate Muslim women and children and their Serb besiegers.

Equally beleaguered, Bosnia’s Muslim-led government said it would accept an international peace plan with some reservations, and urged the immediate resumption of peace talks. Serbia’s hard-line president agreed to press Bosnian Serbs to attend.

The U.N. commander in Bosnia, Gen. Philippe Morillon, arrived late Thursday in Srebrenica, another eastern town, said Ron Redmond, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

Simon Mardell, a World Health Organization doctor who has been in Srebrenica, said in a report to UNHCR that 2,000 people have already died of hunger, cold and disease there and cases of tuberculosis, jaundice and scabies were rife.

Mardell left Srebrenica Wednesday and walked 15 miles northwest to Konjevic Polje, said Danielle Maillefer, WHO spokeswoman in Zagreb, Croatia.

Six U.S. Air Force C-130 transport planes dropped 40.4 tons of food and 1.4 tons of medical supplies over Srebrenica overnight, the U.S. military said today. U.S. officials said Srebrenica was a critical target.

The U.S. Air Force has airdropped 345.3 tons of food and 10 tons of medical supplies throughout eastern Bosnia since the missions began March 1.

Maj. Pepe Gallego, a spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in Sarajevo, said the six British soldiers were trapped in the eastern enclave of Konjevic Polje, which they had reached Thursday.

The evacuation effort failed as the village came under renewed shelling, Muslims protested, and Serbs blocked the passage of two U.N. ambulances.

As many as 2,000 Muslim women and children blocked the Britons’ road out of Konjevic Polje, protesting Serb demands that no men leave and wounded Muslim soldiers be treated at Serbian hospitals, said Peter Kessler, UNHCR spokesman in Zagreb.

Gallego said the desperate Muslims also demanded an immediate cease-fire and the permanent deployment of U.N. military observers in the war-battered town.

Gallego said Serb forces besieging Konjevic Polje also set new demands: that future U.N. aid convoys have no military escort; and that all Serb civilians and wounded soldiers be evacuated from Sarajevo.

Ron Redmond, UNHCR spokesman in Geneva, told reporters that UNHCR workers en route to Konjevic Polje had reported passing deserted villages, some strewn with corpses.

″The trip in was rather frightening,″ he said.

At the edge of Konjevic Polje, Serb fighters refused to allow the two UNHCR ambulances to pass. But the British escort, aid and medical workers went in in light vehicles, Redmond said.

As nurses from the Medecins Sans Frontieres organization were treating local residents, a rocket propelled grenade slammed into the crowd, hitting one resident in the chest and killing her, Redmond said.

Redmond said UNHCR workers saw Serbian tanks on surrounding hills, their barrels trained on the village.

As aid workers left the village without the 70-75 sick and wounded they had hoped to pick up, shelling intensified and a shell landing close to U.N. vehicles killed one local resident.

One British vehicle broke down, forcing the Britons to stay among the protestors, Redmond said, adding there were no immediate plans to return.

Meanwhile, Bosnia’s government urged an immediate resumption of peace talks and accepted with reservations a plan to split Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous provinces, a government statement said late Thursday.

The reservations included that Sarajevo be indivisible, that the United Nations guarantee the plan’s implementation - overseeing the lifting of sieges and the control of heavy weapons.

The listed reservations, repeating well-known Bosnian points, underscored discord in the government.

President Alija Izetbegovic came under criticism for allegedly caving in to mediators at the New York talks.

His deputy, Ejup Ganic, said the government felt Izetbegovic ″gave up too much. They exhausted him, squeezing him.″

″Although the offered solutions ... do not reflect the attitudes of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s government ... the government believes that the plan should be accepted if the conditions are met,″ the statement said.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic met with peace brokers Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen Thursday in Paris and agreed to try persuade Bosnia’s Serbs to attend a new round of peace talks in New York next week.

French President Francois Mitterrand, hosting the meeting, warned Milosevic that ″the world will act″ if a peace treaty was not signed to end the carnage in Bosnia.

Serbia is accused of being behind much of the fighting in Bosnia, but Milosevic said he has only limited influence over ethnic Serb fighters there.

At least 134,000 people have been reported dead or missing in fighting since Bosnia’s Serbs rebelled against a vote by Muslims and Croats to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Serb forces have seized 70 percent of the republic in 11 months of fighting.

Update hourly