TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- In the midst of the battle for the besieged Zepa, Bosnia's warring Muslims and Serbs finally found a common enemy. It was the blue-helmeted army of the United Nations.
As the city appeared to be falling to the Serbs yesterday, a Ukrainian detachment of U.N. troops remained trapped in the pincers of multiethnic belligerence.
Serbian forces have long targeted U.N. forces with shellings, sniper fire and hostage-taking in the 3-year-old war, but only Sunday did the predominantly Muslim army of the Bosnian government join in.
They did so by putting a gun to the head of a U.N. commander at Zepa and ordering about 70 of his men into position as "human shields" against a Serbian attack.
As the war's underdogs, the Muslims long welcomed the U.N. presence as a buffer against the better-armed Serbs.
But sentiments began to change in November, when the United Nations did little to protect the "safe area" it had declared around Bihac.
Any remaining Bosnian goodwill disappeared last week, when the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica fell to a Serbian attack after withstanding a siege for more than two years. It, too, had been a U.N. "safe area," guaranteed protection as part of a bargain in which the United Nations disarmed much of the local Muslim population.
From that moment, practically every Bosnian Muslim -- from poor refugees to high government officials -- turned against the United Nations.
Now, angry words are being backed by angry deeds.
Yuri Shishaev, a U.N. spokesman in Tuzla, said the soldiers defending Zepa surrounded a Ukrainian unit of about 70 U.N. troops Sunday. "The Ukrainian contingent's commander was subsequently hit several times. He was then dragged over a fence and over the ground, and a gun was put to his head."
The Bosnian soldiers then struck several of the other Ukrainians and took the unit's weapons and equipment. They then said that the U.N. soldiers would be used as "human shields" against the Serbian force.
"We are extremely concerned about the situation, and we have pointed out several times that this kind of treatment is absolutely unacceptable," Mr. Shishaev said.
Bosnian government officials responded only with more tough talk.
On Monday in Washington, Bosnian Foreign Minister Mohammed Sacirbey said: "The U.N. mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina is at an end."
He said U.N. troops would either withdraw voluntarily now, or the government would call for an end to the U.N. presence in November when the current mandate expires.
Bosnian government officials have made it clear that the only way the United Nations can win back its welcome is to take decisive military action against the Serbs, either by reinforcing Gorazde or helping secure the only supply road leading to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
The French favor both moves, but the British, who would have to go along with them, are reluctant because of almost certain Serbian retaliation against the U.N. force, which includes their troops.
While the contributors to the force ponder these moves, anger and a sense of betrayal are rising among those they came to protect.
It is especially evident among the refugees from Srebrenica, most of whom have ended up in Tuzla.
"When U.N. forces came to Srebrenica, we thought that the war was over," said Mukulufa Husic, 41, whose 20-year-old son was killed and whose husband is missing. "But they didn't protect us at all. Now I don't feel safe here either. I don't think they can protect me anywhere."
The United Nations is now virtually without a friend in the former Yugoslavia, and no one seems more aware of this than the U.N. soldiers patrolling Bosnian battlefronts.
Their grumbling and skepticism can be heard down the ranks from officers to privates, whether Malaysian, Norwegian, Pakistani, British or French.
One Dutch private seemed to sum up the feeling when he grumbled recently to a carload of reporters: "It's too strange for words. They are trying to kill our soldiers, but we are trying to help them.
"If they don't want us to help them, fine with me. I'd rather go home, and that's the way we all feel."