U.S. seeks Serbs' help on relief aid Belgrade-Bosnia convoys proposed

November 08, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Even as the United States is assailing th Serbs for killing Bosnian Muslims and driving them from their homes, Bush administration officials said yesterday that they are seeking Serbian cooperation in making Belgrade a hub for relief convoys to Bosnia.

Under a U.S. plan to aid thousands of Bosnians suffering from hunger and exposure, the Pentagon would station military personnel in the Serbian capital to speed truck deliveries of aid to beleaguered Muslims in Sarajevo.

The plan would represent a major change in Western aid.

Until now, the West has been relying almost entirely on land corridors from Croatia and relief flights to Sarajevo. But fighting along the road from Croatia has endangered these shipments, and less than half of what the United Nations says is needed is being delivered in these ways. There has also been a trickle of aid recently via the Belgrade-to-Sarajevo land route.

Administration officials said that a message was sent to Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen, the United Nations and European peace envoys, asking them to seek Serbian backing for the plan. They want pledges from the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, and Radovan Karadzic, the leader of ethnic Serbs in Bosnia, that jTC they will assure the safe passage of supplies.

In addition, a team of officers from the U.S. European Command visited Belgrade last week to assess what U.S. logistical support would be needed.

The plan has become the focus of debate among specialists in Washington and Europe. Senior administration officials argue that the new route is vitally needed to improve the delivery of aid to Bosnia, where, according to CIA estimates, more than 100,000 people may die from hunger and exposure.

A senior administration official, who asked not to be named, said: "The rationale is pretty simple: It is an important road to a part of Bosnia that desperately needs humanitarian relief. It is an opportunity for the U.S. to extend resources through the U.N. in planning for the winter."

But critics fear that the arrangements will give the Serbs leverage over the West because the plan requires explicit Serbian cooperation. "It would bring Washington into active cooperation with Serbian leaders that the international community has condemned as the sponsors of the killing in Bosnia," a Western official said. "It is the final stage of the 'well-fed dead' policy that refuses to confront the real issue, Serbian ethnic cleansing."

The idea of sending aid from Belgrade was suggested by Prime Minister Milan Panic of Yugoslavia, who offered Serbian trucks and drivers.

To get more assistance to Sarajevo, the United Nations has quietly begun to ship modest amounts of aid from Belgrade. But it says that less than 15 percent of the supplies sent to Bosnia during the last week of October was dispatched from the Serbian capital.

The American plan would attempt to transform the route from Belgrade into a bigger relief corridor. Under the plan, the United Nations would manage the shipment of supplies, trying to assure that aid sent through Belgrade was not diverted for Serbia's use.

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