Cpl. Richard Manconi extended his one-year duty with the French army so he could help the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Last week, some of those very people opened fire on him and his comrades."This is what we get for caring," said the 21-year-old medical student, pointing to his injured leg and bandages on two of his friends.
Five French U.N. peacekeepers were killed and two others injured when their convoy carrying supplies to U.N. troops was ambushed in a 10-minute barrage of machine-gun fire at Sarajevo's airport Tuesday night. Manconi suffered torn ligaments in his right leg after the water truck he was driving flipped over during the attack.
Egyptian Brig. Gen. Hussein Aly Abdulrazek, commander of U.N. forces in Sarajevo, blamed the attack on "irresponsible elements" among Bosnian government forces defending the city against a Serb siege.
"We want to help save the Bosnians from this war," Manconi said. "And what do they do? They shoot at us."
U.N. soldiers are becoming increasingly angry at Sarajevo's mostly Muslim defenders. They believe some desperate elements in the outgunned and outmanned government forces are targeting U.N. troops to provoke international outrage and military intervention in Bosnia's civil war.
The better-armed Bosnian Serbs control about 70 percent of the country, although their prewar population was only about 31 percent.
But the soldiers also criticized their commanders and the command of the United Nations Protection Force.
"They say we can fire in self-defense but that's really a joke," Manconi said Wednesday in the medical ward in the U.N. headquarters' basement. "How can I fire at an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) with a rifle? It's not a contest."
Manconi said he felt abandoned by his commanders because they did not provide the 36-truck convoy with any protection.
"We were supposed to have an armored personnel carrier, but none came," Manconi said. Adbulrazek told reporters he did not know whether the convoy had any armed escort.
French Cpl. Erik Fisher, whose right arm was hit by a bullet, said he felt "let down by my officers and the people I wanted to help."
He said his commander moved the convoy into the middle of a firefight between Serbs and Bosnian government troops.
"It was a road into hell," Fisher said. "It was like our commanders were signing everybody's death warrant."
Abdulrazek said the French battalion commander believed he had negotiated a cease-fire with the warring parties. But after a 20-minute lull, during which time the convoy started across the airport runway, more fighting erupted.
Manconi said what he felt most was disgust.
"Disgust with the fact that U.N. troops cannot defend themselves, disgust with the fact that we try to help these people and they shoot at us, and disgust with the fact that the two guys who died were the sweetest in the world."
One of the dead was killed on his second wedding anniversary, Manconi said.
"They were both like brothers to me," he said. "I've seen death before during the months I spent in Sarajevo. But when I saw these guys go, I fainted."