WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Serbs in Bosnia have demanded, and received, substantial amounts of the tons of United Nations relief aid as a condition for allowing it to pass through Sarajevo's airport and checkpoints on the ground, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The deals made by the United Nations to get the aid into Bosnia, more than 70 percent of which is now under Serbian control, roughly parallel those that international aid organizations were forced to make with armed factions in Somalia before the U.S.-led intervention.
Up to half of the aid winds up in Serbian hands, U.S. officials say.
A portion of the aid automatically goes to Bosnian Serb civilians, some of whom suffer hardship along with Bosnian Muslims.
But additional quantities, including what one official said are the highest-quality supplies such as meat, end up in the hands of Serbian militiamen, widely viewed in the West as the aggressors.
"A hell of a lot of the assistance goes to Serbs," a U.S. official said.
The United States was not a party to the U.N. arrangements, although officials have known about them for some weeks from a variety of Western sources.
The disclosure comes as residents of besieged Sarajevo are beginning to die from cold and hunger as severe winter sets in. In the city and elsewhere, hundreds of thousands are caught with little or no heat, running water or food, according to reports ,, from the scene.
Despite earlier U.S. pledges to get the aid through, and a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing for military action if necessary, the United Nations has sought to avoid force in favor of negotiating safe passage for flights and convoys.
State Department spokesman Joe Snyder reported 35 flights into Sarajevo Monday and Tuesday, 11 of them American, carrying a total of about 400 tons.
But he relayed reports from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees that several convoys were canceled because of hazardous weather and another, from Belgrade to Gorazde, "was turned back by Bosnian Serbs because of alleged fighting on the road ahead."
The State Department backed away yesterday from its previous expectations that the Security Council would adopt a resolution this week allowing the United States and its allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia that has repeatedly been violated by Bosnian Serb aircraft.
Britain has expressed fears that enforcement would prompt Serbian retaliation against its soldiers who form part of the U.N. force on the ground. And the United States has been arguing with France over how much force to allow. The United States wants to be able to retaliate against aircraft on the ground, while France wants enforcement limited to shooting down planes caught violating the zone.
"We are still trying to overcome those obstacles," Mr. Snyder said yesterday.
Delays at the United Nations have tended to dilute President Bush's Christmas warning to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that the United States would respond with force to an expansion of the war into the Serbian province of Kosovo and interference with U.N. forces.