French Find Their Own Heros in Bosnia
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — AS the United States celebrates Capt. Scott O'Grady's defiance of the Bosnian Serbs, a French Marine outside Sarajevo is becoming another exception in a tide of UN timidity.
Surrounded by dozens of armed Bosnian Serbs, he and another French peacekeeper have refused to surrender for the last 16 days and, at one point, battled Bosnian Serbs in a fist fight.
Sgt. Luc Vanuxem and Sgt. Gil Houzelot have barricaded themselves in a log cabin and a stone shepherd's hut at a UN weapons-collection site in Bare, a village 10 miles west of Sarajevo. Separated by several hundred yards, they maintain radio contact with one another and are living off a two-week supply of rations.
In a feat that has already become Sarajevo folklore, Sergeant Houzelot collected documents containing UN communications codes from his jeep and disabled its engine last Sunday. When he started to disable its radio, 10 armed Serbs surrounded him. He punched his way free and ran quickly back into his cabin.
"There are limits the Serbs don't want to cross," says Capt. Sylvain Clautiaux, the press officer from the sergeants' battalion, "for fear of the reaction it would bring."
The two marines, armed with only assault rifles and a few rounds of ammunition, are still refusing to surrender. UN officials have no plans to rescue them or any of the other 143 UN personnel still held hostage by the Bosnian Serbs. They instead continue to demand their unconditional release.
But how the two soldiers ended up in their lonely vigil is another embarrassing UN mishap.
A few hours after the May NATO airstrikes, dozens of Serbs surrounded the weapons-collection point and demanded that the 18 French soldiers at the post surrender. The following day, three Serb tanks rolled up, and the French were promptly told to surrender or have their barracks blown up. But they refused.
A week later, two duped UN military observers - one French and one Polish - backed up a Serb officer's claim that the weapons-collection point faced imminent attack from Muslim-led Bosnian government forces. The commander of the French unit, Lt. Denis Bretodeau, believed the Serb, departed with 16 of his troops, and left the two sergeants to fend for themselves.
"It hurts, of course," he said after he and his troops were released by the Serbs last week.
French military spokesman Clautiaux waxes philosophic when asked of the significance of one triumphant French stand in a UN mission that has cost 39 French soldiers their lives and resulted in countless humiliations. "If the UN mission was all like these two men?" he mused. "Ah, well then it would be a completely different story."