AS winter snows fall on Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United Nations agency for aid to refugees planned to convene talks today in Geneva on ending serious problems that have hamstrung relief efforts for more than 1.5 million people.
The main aim of the meeting, which brings together senior political and military leaders of the three warring factions for the first time since the collapse of the international peace process in late September, is to obtain an accord guaranteeing safe passage and security for UN humanitarian convoys.
Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says such guarantees are needed before the agency will resume distribution convoys in central Bosnia, where fighting between the Muslim-dominated Bosnian Army and Bosnian Croat forces has raged for months.
The UN ordered a suspension of aid convoys in central Bosnia after a Danish truck driver was killed and 10 others were wounded in an Oct. 25 attack.
``It is a security situation that has been deteriorating over a couple of months to the point where every day we had security incidents involving our staff,'' Mr. Redmond says. At least 10 UNHCR workers have been killed in Bosnia since September 1992.
About 1.5 million people in central Bosnia, the majority of them Muslims ``ethnically cleansed'' from other regions, depend on UNHCR food and other relief supplies. Stockpiles have been rapidly depleted since the convoy suspension.
``Our warehouse in Zenica is now down to one-third of supplies,'' Redmond says. But he says the UNHCR has sufficient stocks to help the estimated 2.7 million people in need - more than half of Bosnia's prewar population - get through the second winter of the 20-month-old conflict. ``Things are piling up because we cannot get into central Bosnia,'' he says. ``It's strictly a problem of security and access.''
Redmond says that during the Geneva talks, High Commissioner Sadako Ogata will seek agreements from the Bosnian Serbs and Croats to lift blockades on the deliveries of items needed to help Muslim areas cope with the harsh winter weather. The Bosnian Serbs have refused to allow materials, such as nails, wood, and plastic sheeting into the besieged eastern Muslim enclaves of Gorazde, Srebrenica, and Zepa, where most housing has been damaged or destroyed by shellfire.
The three towns are desperately overcrowded with about 110,000 people, most of them refugees, and living conditions are said to be abysmal.
The Bosnian Serbs have also prevented the delivery to the enclaves of 65,000 pairs of used shoes, which are especially needed by children, as well as supplies required by UNHCR staffers, including food, fuel, and computers.
UNHCR officials say the Bosnian Croats have blocked the deliveries of equipment required to restart production at coal mines in areas of central Bosnia controlled by the Bosnian Army. The coal is required by power stations on which major population centers in the region rely for electricity.
``We had been in consultation with the three sides individually,'' Redmond says. ``But the situation just continued to deteriorate. Lacking any progress on the political side and with the start of winter, something has to be done immediately.''
The three factions will be represented by: Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic; Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban and Gen. Milivoje Petkovic, a senior commander of the Croatian Defense Council militia; and Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic and Col. Stjepan Siber.