SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Despite anxieties in th Pentagon and elsewhere about a recurrence of the shooting down of an Italian transport plane, a U.S. Air Force Hercules yesterday resumed the United Nations airlift of food and medicines to the 400,000 people trapped in Sarajevo by the Serbian siege of the Bosnian capital.
Exactly a month after the Italian transport was downed by a surface-to-air missile as it made its approach to Sarajevo airport, killing the four-man crew and causing the suspension of the airlift, a four-engine C-130 from the 37th Airlift Squadron, based in Frankfurt, Germany, made an unchallenged landing.
The plane was hurriedly unloaded of its cargo of relief supplies and took off, again without incident, 19 minutes after it arrived.
The resumption of the airlift was seen here as a crucial first step toward heading off what many U.N. officials fear will be a disaster if Sarajevo is not adequately provided with food, clothing, and heating oil for the coming winter. Next, U.N. military commanders hope to punch land corridors through the siege lines and begin truck convoys of the supplies that will be needed by as many as 2 million Bosnians who are living under the siege or as refugees as a result of the 6-month-old fighting.
In the plane that arrived yesterday, a six-man crew ferried in nine tons of military ration packs -- meals that are ready to eat without further preparation -- for distribution among Sarajevo's needy.
A second U.S. flight had been scheduled to bring in French radar equipment that is needed to keep the airport working this winter. The weather forced cancellation of the second flight. Six other U.N. flights that were to have followed the Americans in were also canceled because of bad weather.
"It takes brave men to be the first," said Brig. Gen. Hussein Ali Abdul-Razek, an Egyptian who is the U.N. military commander here. The general stood near the plane as French soldiers of the U.N. force, one eye on mortar and sniper positions only a few hundred yards away, hastened to unload the plane.
"I should take the opportunity to thank the United States government for taking the initiative to resume flights here, and for encouraging other nations to follow their example," General Abdul-Razek said.
He was referring to behind-the-scenes maneuvering by Cyrus R. Vance, the special U.N. envoy in the Balkans and a former secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter who used his influence in Washington to get the airlift started again.
The arrival of the U.S. plane came a day after President Bush called for a U.N. resolution banning combat flights in Bosnia-Herzegovina and said that the United States was ready to use its military force to enforce the ban.