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Source: Bosnia Relief Watch No. 29 (compiled by Refugees International) February 15, 1995


On February 14, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo told reporters: "The humanitarian situation is extremely critical in the entire [Bihac enclave...The food situation is critical...the word starvation is now appropriate for the most vulnerable cases."

The besieged Bihac "pocket" or enclave is under the control of the Bosnian government but surrounded by rebel Bosnian Serbs and Krajina Serbs. The principal humanitarian lifeline for the 180,000 inhabitants of Bihac is the highway north from Bihac through Croatia to Zagreb. But convoys of humanitarian assistance from Zagreb to Bihac must run a gauntlet of territory controlled by Krajina Serbs and a rebel Muslim group.

Since May 1994, the Serbs and rebel Muslims have blocked most UN attempts to push through convoys of food and other essential assistance. UNHCR estimates the need for the people of Bihac to be about 2,000 metric tons per month of food and other essential commodities. Since early October 1994, the UN has been able to deliver only 873 metric tons of supplies--barely ten percent of requirements.

Agricultural production within the 400-square mile Bihac pocket plus sporadic relief provided--until recently--minimum food requirements. However, at present, the entire population of Bihac is affected by hunger and malnutrition. The most vulnerable--displaced families, children, and the elderly, who are entirely dependent upon international assistance--face starvation. On February 13, a UN observer visiting Bosnia said that emaciated children in Bihac are eating a mixture of water and "some kind of powder" for subsistence.

The UN recently appealed to NATO for airdrops of food and other essential aid in Bihac. NATO refused to attempt airdrops because of the danger to aircraft posed by anti-aircraft batteries sited around Bihac by the Serbs.

The UN has secured approval from Krajina Serbs and rebel Muslims to permit four humanitarian relief convoys to reach Bihac during the next few days. The first convoy arrived today, February 15. Wide- spread starvation will become a reality if humanitarian relief does not continue to arrive in Bihac during the next few days. Starvation will remain a constant danger unless regular deliveries of food can be guaranteed.

The problems of hunger and incipient starvation in Bihac are complicated by continuing heavy fighting--despite the cease-fire declared January 1--plus attacks on the UN-declared "safe area" of Bihac city. At least one person was killed in the so-called safe area on February 12 by a Serbian artillery or tank round.

Unfortunately, international resolve to achieve even modest humanitarian objectives in Bosnia is declining. The UN and NATO seem little inclined to take any meaningful action to discourage the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs and rebel Muslim forces near Bihac from blocking humanitarian relief and attacking the UN safe area of Bihac city.

Refugees International continues to recommend that the international community insist on its right to provide essential humanitarian relief to innocent civilians in Bosnia. The international community must also protect Bosnian civilians from attack--especially in the UN-declared "safe areas." The best means by which these objectives can be accomplished would appear to be the credible threat of NATO airstrikes to maintain open convoy routes, prevent military attacks on civilians and to carry out airdrops of emergency supplies. The U.S. must take the lead in NATO to encourage a clear and strong policy on the use of air power to achieve humanitarian objectives.