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January 31, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 123
Bosnian Thunder

The Northern Corridor Of Salvation

by Drazena Peranic

While dramatic appeals for help from a starving population are arriving from Tuzla, the second largest town in Bosnia still controlled by the Bosnian government, hundreds of trucks loaded with humanitarian aid are waiting in the Croatian town of Zupanja for permission to cross the Sava River and enter BosniaHerzegovina and bring food to Tuzla. Information that trucks with aid for BH are stuck at someone's military check point is nothing new, but the fact that aid to the Tuzla region is being shipped via the Northern corridor or more precisely, from Zagreb via Zupanja, Orasje and Srebrenik to Tuzla, has changed the humanitarian and political situation in the Tuzla and Posavina region.

The opening of the Northern corridor called the ``Road of salt and cornthe humanitarian convoy of love for Tuzla and Posavina'' has been organized by nongovernmental organizations, primarily the International Workers' Aid and the Tuzla logistics center, and enjoys the general sponsorship of the European Parliament and numerous individuals. We talked with Edhem Asceric, chairman of the organizing committee of the action, about this idea, the situation in Tuzla and the future of BH.

VREME: How did you hit on the idea of trying to open up a Northern corridor?

ASCERIC: International Workers' Aid from London and the Tuzla Logistics Center have been trying for months to do a very natural thingto open up a Northern corridor to Tuzla. This action includes trade unions from Scotland, Ireland, Spain, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Slovenia. At a recent meeting in Stuttgart, they drew up a mini program of their activities linked to the opening of the Northern corridor. This corridor was first mentioned when English workers brought aid for Tuzla as far as Split and had to leave it there because of the CroatianMoslem conflict. We explained that Tuzla had never been linked with cities or states by a Southern corridor, and that there was a highway to the North. This route linked the region of Tuzla and Posavina naturally and quickly with Croatia and European countries. By following this route, the distance between Tuzla and Zagreb was covered in less than five hours.

VREME: Even so, until the start of CroatianMoslem conflicts you used the Southern corridor via Herzegovina to reach Central Bosnia and further on, the Tuzla region.

ASCERIC: The use of the Southern Corridor as a supply route during the first year of the war was the result of Tuzla being sealed off from all sides. Before the war these routes were not used at all, except by the Forestry Department, because there are 1,150 kilometers between Tuzla and Zagreb that wayit took threefour days to cover the route when there was no war. Today the Southern corridor is no longer operational and is the scene of great battles, so that it wouldn't be logical to try and ship aid for Tuzla through that region. It would never arrive. Not so long ago, in May last year, a large convoy for Tuzla was attacked in the Southern corridor. A lot of our people were killed and of the 476 vehicles, only around 200 reached Tuzla half empty, while the rest were destroyed. Apart from the loss of lives, we lost aid worth 35 million German marks.

VREME: A letter sent recently by the Tuzla City Government claims that they are having great difficulty in feeding the citizens and numerous refugees, and that the UNHCR have not managed to send them aid for a month.

ASCERIC: The situation with humanitarian aid in Tuzla is very bad. Currently there are 226,000 people in the city, of which 130,000 are citizens of Tuzla, while the rest are refugees from Northern and Eastern Bosnia. UNHCR only distributes aid to the refugees, and this covers only 17% of the needs. Unfortunately, warehouses in Croatia and other European countries are full of aid for Tuzla which cannot be transported there. We have to pay storage charges every day. Every square meter of warehouse space costs. The goods are in the warehouses and the donators are nervous since we have no feedback information that the aid has reached Tuzla. On the other hand, the citizens of Tuzla are starving and think that no one wishes to help them. The airport in Tuzla has been closed for months.

VREME: In all the cities in BH which are sealed off, the black market is full of humanitarian aid. Is this the situation in Tuzla?

ASCERIC: Of course. Those who have sealed off Tuzla bring goods into the city. In this way they are squeezing the citizens dry of their last dinars or foreign currency which relatives and friends on the outside manage to send to those in the city. Smuggling is a very profitable business in war, so that many do not wish to see the city unblocked. An average salary in Tuzla is 4 DEM, while the prices on the black market are wild: 1 kg of sugar costs 40 DEM, 1 liter of cooking oil is 30 DEM, a kilo of flour is 40 DEM. Prices depend on the quantities of food smuggled into the city. Black marketeering knows no borders. The only aim is to make a profit.

VREME: If an average salary is 4 DEM, does that mean that some institutions and firms are working, in spite of the blockade?

ASCERIC: Schools, the faculties and some services are working of course. Those involved in production are working at a greatly reduced capacity. All our workers are endangered because they are part of a chain they depend on the thermoelectric power supply system. And that's where the circle closes, and problems crop up. The Tuzla thermoelectric power plant has a capacity for producing 869 megawatt. The region consumes only half this amount. We exported the rest: to Sarajevo, even Dalmatia when it was in the dark. But today, with the blockade, we cannot bring in production materials, so that the plant is working at reduced capacity. Since we cannot exploit coal, we cannot produce electricity, and without electricity we have been forced to reduce all our production capacities in the polyurethane chemistry and the ``Dita'' detergent plant. Considering that products made in Tuzla's factories are highly marketable, if we could bring in production materials, we would be able to feed the entire region without humanitarian or any other aid.

If we were to open up the Northern corridor, and if this route became operational, it would mean an end of the war for us. Not just for the citizens of Tuzla, but for other parts of BH. We would be living proof that it is possible to live together without war and nationalist hatred. Tuzla always was proof of this and will remain as such.

VREME: It seems that all three sides are blocking Tuzla, i.e., all three sides in BH feel an animosity towards Tuzla. The Serbian media said that the Mayor of Tuzla had arrested or killed the President of the Reformist Party Selim Beslagic, while the media in Sarajevo accuse you of secessionism and of wanting autonomy.

ASCERIC: Everybody else wishes us autonomy more than we do ourselves. In spite of the three nationalist options which are against us, we believe that there are only two sides in the Tuzla region those who support BH, and those who are against it. National programs have not brought much luck to BH, they are just an indication of who's who in this state. I believe that the option supported by the citizens of Tuzla will survive and spread throughout BH. Beslagic has political wisdom and I think that he should be listened to. The people in Tuzla are united, and that is their greatest strength. It is less important to which faith one belongsOrthodox, Catholic or Moslem. The Reformist Party's slogan sums it up best: "Bosnia is best defended the Tuzla way.''

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