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June 15, 1992
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 38

Asterix in Bosnia

by Dejan Anastasijevic

A convoy of 23 vehicles, loaded with food and drugs for the UN Mission in Sarajevo, left Pancevo the day before, accompanied by a few reporters who, on their own responsibility, joined in, driving in the rear. The whole journey (there and back) lasted more than 70 hours, owing partly to an extremely complicated itinerary and partly to traffic jams on numerous "border crossings".

The convoy is made mostly of French units, with a few Swedish, British and Kenyans. The commander is a French lieutenant, the former attaché of the French embassy in Belgrade, kind of short, robust and with mustache, which is why he right away got a nick-name: Asterix. All the French are still boys, the average age is nineteen, perfectly disciplined and trained. Near Tuzla, at the first crossing from the Serb-held to the Muslim-held territory, Serbs fired at the convoy from a LAW but luckily the missile missed the Commander's vehicle by some 20cm and ended up in the nearby field.

Later on we found out that this was just the usual procedure: first they let us pass on the other side and then, as soon as we're there, they open fire, although mostly at the enemy's positions, not directly at the UNPROFOR. Entering Sarajevo, the sniper fire was so heavy that the French abandoned their vehicles and took an ambush beside the road. Fortunately nobody was shot and nobody had to fire back - the UNPROFOR soldiers have strict orders not to shoot unless their lives are directly endangered.

"There are no good or bad guys here" says a military observer, a colonel from New Zealand. "They just want to wage their dirty little war in peace, and we're on their way. If there is someone in New York who thinks different, he's dead wrong". Not everybody shares his opinion. "Can you see the difference?", a French lieutenant asks the journalists after we crossed on the Muslim territory, where everybody waved to us and even threw flowers, from the Serb-held, where they look at us askance and even threatened. "That is because", I tried to explain, "the Muslims think you're here to help them fight the Serbs, and Serbs apparently think the same. Things will probably change once they're convinced you're neutral". The Colonel gives me a long look behind his rayban glasses: "Neutral?", says he with an ice cold voice. "Just let me remind you: Bosnia is a UN member, Serbia isn't". I remain silent, trying not to forget that I'm talking with a man whom a drunk Serbian soldier threatened with his "scorpio" a few hours back while trying to take off his bullet proof vest. It happened in Ilijas (some 30km from Sarajevo) when a group of fifty members of the Serbian Forces emerged from behind the hill, armed to the teeth, and held us at a gun point while thoroughly searching the convoy. One of them kept playing with a hand grenade making it look as if he is ready to throw it any second. At the moment the wrestling over the vest began, we were on the edge of an open conflict. An officer who at the last moment managed to calm down one of his drunk chetniks said: "Tell them that we are no bandits, it is just that my men are very tired after the whole night fight". Before he finished his last sentence, he had to rush and prevent another drunk "fighter" to "liberate" one of the UNPROFOR vehicles. When they finally let us go firing a few farewell shots in the air, Asterix said: "This is scum, not an army. We could easily have pulled the plug on them if we wanted to".

There is no need to describe Sarajevo. It suffices to say that it still doesn't look exactly like Vukovar, but they are working on it with all their might. The convoy stayed in town just to unload the trucks and spend the night. On our way back, we spent the night in Tuzla. It turned out that our hosts were mad because a Belgrader (myself) was in the convoy. They put us all in a hotel, and promised a "special treatment" for me after the French fall asleep. I took the threats seriously and asked for protection from my colleagues, who promised not to let them hurt me. However, what began as animosity soon turned into a wild party. We parted as best friends.

Next morning, during the crossing on the Serbian territory, one of my new pals from last night fired at me and missed by half a meter. I would like to believe he missed intentionally.

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