AS Yugoslav Army-backed Serbian guerrillas tighten their siege of Bosnia-Herzegovina, hundreds of thousands of people trapped in Sarajevo and other war-ravaged areas now face shortages of food and medical supplies.
The rapid depletion of food stocks has become so serious that senior government officials express concern that more-radical elements in their security forces might try to break out of the capital in an explosion of violence.
"If the food doesn't come in, everybody will do whatever they can to get through the barricades," warns Ejup Ganic, a member of the Muslim Slav and Croatian presidency. "We don't have food. We are completely surrounded. It's frustrating. We expected help from the West."
Mr. Ganic and other leaders of the embattled government say international military intervention is needed to end growing suffering and prevent Serbian forces from pursuing their six-week-old campaign to gain territory from Bosnia-Herzegovina for the new 'rump' Yugoslavia.
But there appears little chance for that at present. UN Undersecretary Marrack Goulding, after a week-long fact-finding mission, appeared Sunday to rule out the possibility of deploying UN peacekeeping forces.
"I'm not terribly optimistic," Mr. Goulding said before returning to New York to report to UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
A major peacekeeping operation "would require an enormous force. It would be very expensive in every way," says a Western diplomat.
But other Western observers say the international community and some UN member states are putting pressure on the Security Council to take some action.
One alternative to a UN peacekeeping operation, Western diplomats say, is a multinational military force to protect hu- manitarian aid convoys.
"We've been pushing hard for that," says Sylvana Foa, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.
Such an operation is now under way in Somalia. Western diplomats caution, however, that initiating a similar plan in Bosnia-Herzegovina would require an agreement among all of the warring sides.
A Western diplomat says that the idea was first broached by the French government and that support for the proposal is gaining strength in other West European capitals and in Washington.
Under the plan, UN military forces would work to secure safe passage for relief supplies en route to Sarajevo through combat zones and Serbian guerrilla roadblocks.
UN officials say Serbian guerrillas have hijacked at least eight truckloads of UN, European Community, and private-relief-agency food and medical supplies. Threats have been made against the lives of some UN workers.
The dangers have forced UNHCR and other organizations to curtail deliveries of aid, and large stocks languish in warehouses in Croatia and Serbia. Some internationally donated supplies have been held up by the Yugoslav Army at the airport in Sarajevo.
"No food has been reaching Sarajevo for some time now and the relief agencies are having difficulties in getting access to the relief stocks that are there," says Fabrizio Hochshield, chief of the UNHCR in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"Sadly, nobody has the freedom of movement to really know what is going on in other areas," he adds. "The focus has been on Sarajevo."
Haris Smajkic, the chief of the Bosnian Health Ministry's crisis staff, warns that shortages are growing more acute and says that at least 70,000 tons of food was now required to avert widespread hunger.
Stores in Sarajevo and other areas have been looted, unstocked, or closed for weeks. There is no fresh milk or baby food for an estimated 25,000 children under the age of three.
"People had supplies in their houses a month ago, but nobody expected the fighting to last this long. So, this stuff is running out," Mr. Hochshield says. "There are already people who are hungry."
He says that the crisis is so serious that the UNHCR is working to convince Serbian leaders to allow massive convoys to run relief supplies into the city from Zagreb and Belgrade this weekend, regardless of the dangers.
With at least an estimated 1,320 people killed and 6,700 injured in six weeks of fighting, Mr. Smajkic says many hospitals are already down to their last stocks of medical supplies.
Western diplomats say humanitarian aid must be delivered quickly before an expected surge in fighting following a sweeping purge last week of the topmost ranks of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Army and an order for all soldiers from Serbia and Montenegro to return home by May 19.
The purge swept into retirement acting Yugoslav Defense Minister Blagoje Adzic and 39 other generals and admirals. They included the military chief for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Col. Gen. Milutin Kukanjac, and six of his top commanders.
With new gaps in the already chaos-ridden command chain in the republic, there are grave fears about the control of about 80,000 Yugoslav Army troops who are natives of Bosnia-Herzegovina and are therefore not covered by the withdrawal order issued by the presidency of the Yugoslav federation.Those soldiers are widely expected to retain their weapons, switch insignia, and join the guerrillas comprising the self-proclaimed "Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina."