Sporadic Fighting in Bosnia as Sanctions Take Effect
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Sporadic fighting and shelling shook parts of embattled Bosnia-Herzegovina today and neighboring Serbia felt the isolation of mounting international sanctions over its involvement in the war.
With speculation rampant in the Serbian press that the U.N. embargo imposed on Saturday may be a prelude to foreign military intervention, the commander of the Serb-led Yugoslav air force promised his planes would repel any attack.
″We will fight to the last man,″ declared Maj. Gen. Bozidar Stefanovic in an interview with Belgrade’s large-circulation Vecernje Novosti daily.
Small arms and cannon fire was reported in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo throughout much of the night. A U.N.-mediated cease-fire was to take effect at 6 p.m. (noon EDT), although its chances of success were questionable.
The United Nations and most of the world blame Serbia and its tiny ally Montenegro, the only two states remaining in Yugoslavia, for the bloody conflict in Bosnia.
The war pits Bosnian government forces - mainly Slavic Muslims and Croats - against ethnic Serb insurgents supported by the Yugoslav army.
At least 2,250 people have died in fighting since the Muslims and Croats, who account for nearly 60 percent of the republic’s 4.3 million people, voted for independence on Feb. 29.
The U.N. Security Council’s tough sanctions include a ban on all trade, denial of athletic participation, an oil embargo and the cutting of air links. Imports of food and humanitarian supplies are allowed.
Yugoslav Airlines, the national flag carrier, and Avio Genex, a charter airline, announced today they were discontinuing all flights to western Europe. Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Belgrade airport.
Mile-long lines of cars formed in front of gas stations early today as motorists, fearing an oil squeeze, rushed to stock up.
But there was no panic-buying in Belgrade’s still well-stocked stores. Most people appeared confident that the sanctions would not make much difference. Sidewalk cafes were packed on a beautiful sunny day.
″I cannot believe that these sanctions will last long enough to make a difference,″ said Verica Milivojevic, a grocery sale clerk.
President Bush froze Yugoslav government assets in the United States on Sunday and Britain said it was doing the same today. Japan, a tiny trading partner, suspended commerce with Yugoslavia today.
Serbia’s government is also facing pressure at home.
On Sunday, tens of thousands demonstrated against President Slobodan Milosevic, an authoritarian former Communist, and legislative elections organized to legitimize his hold on the government.
Although boycotted by the opposition and criticized by international organizations as undemocratic, Milosevic insists Sunday’s elections were needed to establish state bodies of the reconstituted Yugoslav federation.
The largest protest was the largest in Belgrade against the government since March 1991, before the collapse in bloodshed of the old six-republic Yugoslavia.
In other signs of dissent, the Serbian Orthodox Church last week denounced the Milosevic government and indirectly called for his resignation; parents of federal soldiers in Bosnia are demanding their sons be withdrawn; and actors last week protested the war with an hour of silence at theaters across Serbia.
Although no military measures have been discussed specifically by the Security Council, the press has been rife with speculation the U.N. would impose a naval blockade.
Stefanovic, the air force commander, said almost all its estimated 450 combat aircraft and hundreds of helicopters have been moved from the republics that seceded from Yugoslavia.
He said anti-aircraft missile systems are ″concentrated around the capital and are fully operational ... Whoever dares to attack Belgrade will be welcomed in a fitting manner.″
Boro Kontic, a Radio Sarajevo editor reached by telephone from Zagreb, said fighting in Sarajevo had subsided early today.
It was unclear whether the latest cease-fire would be any more successful than many other truces that collapsed almost immediately.
Serbian and Croatian forces also traded fire south of Sarajevo, and shells fell on Croatia’s historic city of Dubrovnik, local defense officials said.
Sixteen large-caliber shells also exploded in the Serb-controlled southern Bosnian town of Trebinje. They were fired on from Croatian positions around Dubrovnik, the Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency said.
Street fighting also was reported from Gorazde, the last remaining ethnic Muslim stronghold in eastern Bosnia. The town is packed with 20,000 refugees and is surrounded by Serb irregulars.
Two people were reported killed and four wounded in the bombardment of the northern Croatian city of Slavonski Brod by Serbian gunners firing from across the Sava river boundary with Bosnia.