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NATO Fires First Shots In Anger

January 5, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Italian troops coming under gunfire in the dead of night fired the NATO force’s first shots in Bosnia in an attempt to rescue a wounded comrade, the alliance disclosed today.

The wounded soldier was the first NATO casualty from hostile fire.

An unidentified gunman, believed to be a Serb, opened fire before dawn Thursday on Italian guards based in Vogosca, a small town just north of Sarajevo, said Lt. Col. Salvatore Iaconoe, a spokesman for the Italian forces serving in Bosnia.

An engineer, Cpl. Elio Sbordoni, was hit by a single bullet and took cover under a car, he said.

``Four or five rounds were fired in order to recover a soldier who had been hit by rifle fire in the attack,″ Iaconoe said.

The assailant fired from about 100 yards and appeared to be using a high-caliber rifle, he said. He apparently slipped away in the darkness.

The Italian response was ``quick and positive,″ said NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Rayner. The shots were the first fired by NATO, he said.

Sbordoni was the first NATO casualty from hostile fire since the United Nations handed over peacekeeping authority to NATO on Dec. 20. Four British soldiers and one American have been wounded by mine blasts.

Sbordoni, one of about 250 Italians presently in Bosnia, was not badly wounded and was to be evacuated to Italy today for more treatment.

The attack in Vogosca occurred at the rear of a converted hotel complex that will be the main base for Italy’s 2,500-member peacekeeping contingent.

Bosnian Serbs took control of Vogosca shortly after war broke out in April 1992. Under the terms of the Bosnian peace agreement, the town will be transferred to the Muslim-led Bosnian government by March 19. Although freedom of movement throughout Bosnia is assured on paper, non-Serbs are not free to go there.

Bosnian Serbs drew international criticism over the past week for detaining 16 civilians outside Sarajevo and compromising the freedom of movement that is a crucial tenet of the Bosnian peace accord.

Under international pressure, the Serbs released the 16 on Thursday. But today, a government minister said three more captives have been in detention in Serb-held Ilidza, outside Sarjaevo, since late last month.

Minister Hasan Muratovic did not explain why he had not mentioned the cases publicly before. He also said a fourth person disappeared while traveling to Mostar, 115 miles from Sarajevo, on Dec. 12.

Spokesmen for the NATO peacekeeping force said they had investigated the claim of additional detentions outside Sarajevo but could not confirm it.

``As far as we’re concerned, all prisoners were released,″ said spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Rayner. ``We hope this incident is closed.″

There was also no word from the Bosnian Serbs of further detentions.

Three of the 16 captives released Thursday displayed bruises, which they said came from Serb beatings. Most had no complaints about their treatment.

Jasminko Huzbasic, a 40-year-old engineer, said his car and money were taken when he was detained New Year’s Day.

``I didn’t ask for the car, just to be free,″ he said, adding he wouldn’t risk going through Serb-held territory again any time soon.

Serb-held areas in Sarajevo are to be turned over to the Bosnian government under the peace agreement signed Dec. 14 in Paris.

Adil Spahic, 44, said a group of young men brandished guns and detained him and two others on Christmas Day. He said they told him it was too early for Muslims to return to the Serb-held neighborhood of Ilidza.

``I won’t dare to take the route through Ilidza again,″ Spahic said.

Spahic and two other men said they were beaten and kicked after being detained, then held for nine days in a police station lavatory.

For the international forces enforcing peace, the 16 detentions exposed an embarrassing rift between military and civilian officials over who is responsible for civilian safety.

The peace agreement guarantees freedom of movement, but military officials insist that local police and international civil authorities must oversee it. A U.N. civilian police force is not due until the end of the month, and civilian authorities said unarmed police could not be expected to fulfill that mission.

Bosnia’s peace was further troubled today by the shooting of two Muslim policemen in volatile Mostar.

Bullets flew overnight in the southwest city, which is divided between Muslims and Croats who fought bitterly to control it for a year during the war and is now administered by the European Union. Peace has failed to take hold in the town, with its Muslim and Croat mayors unable even to agree on dividing lines for their sectors.

Two off-duty Muslim policemen were severely injured when shots were fired into their car as it drove along a former front line in Croat-held western Mostar, EU spokesman Howard Fox said.

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