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Far-away war slams families of 33 Fusiliers

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LONDON -- They waited by the telephone. They watched television. They looked for their sons, the peacekeepers who became prisoners of war.

Yesterday, the war in Bosnia weighed down on soldiers' families in the tiny villages and hard-working towns of Wales.

Thirty-three members of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, British peacekeepers with the United Nations forces, are held hostage by the Bosnian Serb army.

"I'd like to see my son out. I'd like to see everyone's son out," says Allen Warren, father of one hostage, Sgt. Nicholas Warren, 30, of Cardiff.

"I'd like to see the problems solved there," Mr. Warren adds. "I know innocents are being killed. You can't stand by and let that happen. With something like Northern Ireland, though, it's 'queen and country.' Here, this is not our war. Our lads are trying to keep the peace. Now, they're being made scapegoats."

Last night, Bosnian Serb-controlled television broadcast the first pictures of the detained British soldiers. They were seen smoking cigarettes and eating meals in a canteen in Visegrad, northeast of the town of Gorazde, a U.N.-declared haven where they were captured Sunday.

The soldiers were not handcuffed, and their blue U.N. helmets and weapons were lined up against a wall.

A Bosnian commentator described the soldiers as "prisoners of war."

Meanwhile, six Welsh soldiers who were injured in a road accident after their capture also were shown on television recovering in a Serbian military hospital in Pale.

"We were not told we were taken prisoners of war, we were just told to move to a safe place," said a soldier, identified as Laurence Parry.

The images brought hope to some of the families, who, at last, saw their sons alive.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers stand by a simple motto: Ich Dien -- I Serve. They were formed in 1689 and first fought against the forces of King James II in Ireland. They have gone to battle under Marlborough, Wellington and George II. They also saw service in the Boer War and both world wars.

Queen Elizabeth II is the colonel in chief of the Fusiliers, and she is due to visit the regiment base Thursday, fulfilling a commitment made months ago.

The Royal Welch Fusiliers have been in the heat of the Bosnian conflict. Even as early as March 12, they were under strain, firing 700 rounds as cover to move out of range of the Bosnian Serbs.

With more than 90 percent of the soldiers claiming Welsh as their first language, the soldiers frequently used the language to communicate on radio. But it is believed they established some rapport with the Bosnian Serb soldiers before their capture.

"To be in the Fusiliers, you've got to be special," Mr. Warren says.

Mr. Warren has three sons in the British military. His eldest, Nicholas, has done four tours of duty in Northern Ireland. The son now has a family of his own. Sergeant Warren's wife is expecting their second child.

"That time in Northern Ireland should get Nick through this," Mr. Warren says. "Obviously, he is going to be scared. But I believe he can take it."

Mr. Warren says a British military briefer told him the captive soldiers were allowed to keep their weapons.

"I've been told that when they were overpowered, there were no threats of violence," he says. "They are just asked to come along. They even drove their own vehicles and collected their own personal effects."

Derek Scoble says his son, Lance Cpl. Glyn Scoble, also captured, has the steel to come through unscathed. He too says that two tours of duty in Northern Ireland prepared his son for Bosnia.

"In Northern Ireland, you had to be on guard. The place brought out the soldier in him," Mr. Scoble says.

Pauline Jones of Brymbo says she spent a sleepless night Sunday worrying about her 19-year-old son, Lee, who is being held captive with only a year's military experience.

"My boy was bored in Wales," Mrs. Jones says. "He couldn't get a job. He wanted to join the army and see the world. I guess he got to the wrong place."

The families don't have to be reminded of the stakes. Twelve Britons have been killed in Bosnia. The first was Lance Cpl. Wayne "Eddie" Edwards, 26, a Royal Welch Fusilier with another unit who was killed by a sniper in January 1993 while escorting an ambulance that took three women to safety. His mother says she fears for the captives.

"My son was a soldier's soldier, and if he were alive he wouldn't want to come out of there," says Barbara Manley. "Our soldiers went to Bosnia to help. They were peacekeepers. They didn't go to fight. This is what we just don't understand. Our boys can't fight back."

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