SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Nearly 680 Muslims, mor than 100 of them seriously wounded, were evacuated yesterday by United Nations forces from besieged Srebrenica to the relative safety of the Bosnian Muslim-held city of Tuzla.
Lt. Gen. Philippe Morillon of France, commander of the U.N. forces in Bosnia, supervised the evacuation and accompanied the convoy of 18 trucks and an ambulance on the first leg of the journey through the siege lines to the neighboring Bosnian Serb-held town of Bratunac.
After gaining pledges that Serbian forces would allow the convoy to pass through Serbian checkpoints, General Morillon returned to Srebrenica.
There, the 57-year-old French officer again assured a crowd outside his temporary headquarters in the town's post office that he would not leave them until their safety was assured.
The evacuation from Srebrenica began shortly after dawn, barely 12 hours after the first U.N. relief convoy of food, medicine and warm clothing in more than three months reached Srebrenica, setting off tumultuous scenes among thousands of hungry and freezing people.
From his base in the town, General Morillon had worked for nine days to persuade the Serbian forces to allow the convoy to pass, finally succeeding at dusk on Friday.
The arrival of 175 tons of food, blankets and medical supplies was crucial to a town where as many as 30 people a day had been reported to be dying of hunger and exposure, and where scores of others lay seriously wounded.
The town's population has grown to 60,000 as refugees have fled there from other towns in eastern Bosnia overrun by Serbian forces.
When the trucks that carried the relief supplies into the town lined up outside the hospital yesterday morning, they were overwhelmed by people attempting to clamber aboard for the journey to Tuzla, a city about 50 miles northwest that is under Bosnian Muslim control.
The scene, described to reporters by U.N. troops by radio telephone, testified to the desperation of the refugees who have crowded into Srebrenica, many of whom have been uprooted three or four times during the nearly yearlong fighting in Bosnia.
"Everybody started clawing at the trucks, and everybody wanted to come along," said Capt. Dirk Van Den Broek of Belgium.
General Morillon, in a green flak jacket with a four-star badge on the chest, decided not to try to limit the evacuation to the sick and wounded, as previously negotiated with Serbian commanders on the siege lines.
Instead, he instructed the U.N. troops to allow relatives of the sick and wounded to join them.
At Caparde, the last Serbian-held town on the road west to Tuzla, Serbian forces halted the convoy for two hours checking the documents and baggage of the evacuees. At one point a Serbian officer went from truck to truck and ordered all young men 17 years and older to raise their hands.
This raised fears among U.N. officers that the young Muslim men would be seized by Serbian forces on the grounds that they were potential recruits to the Bosnian Muslim army.
But the convoy was eventually cleared to proceed to Tuzla without any of the evacuees being seized.