Serbs are trying to take all of eastern Bosnia, diplomats warn


BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- In the absence of any credible threat to stop them, Serbian rebels in Bosnia-Herzegovina are waging an all-out drive to conquer the last few non-Serbian communities in eastern Bosnia, diplomats and aid workers warned yesterday.

A convoy of life-saving aid has been held up by Serbian gunmen at the Bosnian border for the past week, less than 20 miles from the beleaguered city of Srebrenica, which is being pounded by rebel tanks, artillery and aircraft.

One of only four non-Serbian pockets remaining in the republic's ravaged east, Srebrenica has become a gruesome death trap where starving and wounded Slavic Muslim refugees from other vanquished enclaves are succumbing on the snowy streets after their futile trek in search of food and shelter.

Field workers for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees describe the scene in Srebrenica as "appalling," according to agency spokeswoman Lyndall Sachs. "We've been told that people are so desperate they are willing to kill for what they can get from the air drops" of food and medicine parachuted from U.S. planes each night, she said. Four people were reported killed as gun and knife fights broke out among hungry crowds trying to reach food bundles.

Some political observers accuse United Nations and European Community mediators Cyrus R. Vance and Lord Owen of turning their backs on vulnerable communities such as Srebrenica to speed the ethnic partition of Bosnia that is necessary for the success of their proposed peace plan.

Although there was no indication that the Serbs would relent and let aid through to Srebrenica, the U.N. refugee agency was informed late in the day that convoys destined for Sarajevo, Gorazde and Tuzla would be allowed to proceed. Ms. Sachs said that trucks set off from the Yugoslav-Bosnian border for Sarajevo and Gorazde before sunset but that the Tuzla-bound convoy was ordered to wait for daybreak to avoid crossing dangerous front lines in the dark.

State-run TV Serbia reported that none of the convoys would be permitted to unload relief goods unless the refugee agency promised to "evacuate" Serbs still living in the pro-government enclaves.

In New York, Mr. Vance and Lord Owen resumed talks with the warring factions yesterday amid threats by the United States and other powers to impose even more severe punishment on the Serbs unless they stand down.

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