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U.S. Begins Dropping Relief Aid to Besieged Bosnian Muslims

By Art Pine
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The United States began airdropping food and humanitarian relief supplies over the besieged Muslim enclave of Mostar on Tuesday after an aid convoy failed to reach the southern Bosnian city by land, U.S. and U.N. officials said.

The first flights over the area began late Tuesday, according to U.N. officials. The Pentagon said the U.S. European Command at Rhein-Main airbase in Germany, which staged the air operation, reported that two Air Force C-130 cargo planes dropped about 13,000 prepackaged rations over the area.

As many as 55,000 Muslims there have been cut off from aid supplies by Bosnian Croats, and officials have feared that there may be widespread starvation unless the relief packets are delivered soon.

There were indications, however, that the overland aid would soon be allowed to reach the city.

The failure of the overland convoy Tuesday underscored the precarious situation that remains in Bosnia despite weeks of peace negotiations in Geneva among the three warring factions.

A few hours before the airdrops were to begin Tuesday, opposing Muslim and Croat commanders whose forces have been fighting in the area agreed to exchange the bodies of fallen soldiers, presumably paving the way for the truck convoy to enter the city.

The Croats had blocked the convoy from reaching Mostar after charging that the Muslims were refusing to turn over the bodies of nine Croat soldiers killed during an earlier exchange of gunfire.

Croat negotiators had rejected a proposal to give Mostar the status of an international protectorate, which would have allowed U.N. forces to enter the city and set up operations.

The airdrops were requested by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, according to U.N. spokeswoman Sylvana Foa.

If the truck convoy is permitted to enter Mostar Wednesday, it will be the first to reach the Muslim sector of the city since June 2. The line of U.N. supply vehicles is said to be carrying some 200 tons of food and medical supplies.

The United States has been airdropping food and medical supplies to areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina since late February.

In Brussels on Tuesday, NATO officials warned that the organization's threat to launch air strikes against forces that persist in blocking aid supplies in Bosnia could apply to the Croats besieging Mostar, as well as to Serbs surrounding Sarajevo.

Meanwhile, at the United Nations in New York, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming its opposition to territorial aggression in Bosnia-Herzegovina and yet praised the Geneva mediators whose peace proposals would allow the Bosnian Serbs to keep most of what they have conquered.