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NATO Pounds Ammo Dump near Bosnian Serb Headquarters

May 26, 1995

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Bosnian Serbs took three U.N. peacekeepers hostage after NATO warplanes struck a Serb ammunition dump today, then chained them up at the dump as human shields against further air strikes.

Bosnian TV showed three peacekeepers _ a Canadian, a Czech and reportedly a Russian _ shackled to a pillar and door. ``These soldiers will not be hurt unless there are renewed air strikes,″ the report said.

The taking of U.N. hostages underscored a major problem in using NATO air power against the Serbs. The NATO air strike, in its second day, is the first since November. The United Nations had been reluctant to call in NATO air power since then because more than 400 peacekeepers were seized after the November raids.

But the United Nations and NATO sounded determined to press on despite the peril.

``This is a calculated risk,″ U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard told Cable News Network. ``We need to silence these guns.″

``The political objectives are so important that I think everyone realized sacrifice is necessary, and we have to stand firm now,″ Eckhard said.

A Defense Department spokesman in Ottawa identified the Canadian hostage as Capt. Patrick Rechner, 32.

Negotiations for his release ``are going on at all levels from headquarters ... right down to the people on the ground,″ said Capt. Conrad Bellehumeur.

The names of the other two hostages were not immediately known.

The Bosnian Serb military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, told the U.N. commander for Bosnia today that the lives of peacekeepers held on Serb territory would be in danger if NATO planes hit again, U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said in Sarajevo.

The Serbs also warned of possible retaliation against U.N. bases in government-held territory near front lines.

After today’s strike, Serbs also surrounded as many as 200 U.N. troops at weapons-collection points near Sarajevo, U.N. and NATO sources said. They fired four or five mortar rounds at Canadian peacekeepers just north of Sarajevo, causing no injuries.

To further prove their defiance of the NATO action, Serbs shelled a U.N.-protected town where they had killed 71 people Thursday, and killed one person in a rocket attack on western Sarajevo.

NATO planes attacked repeatedly today, unleashing missiles and 500- and 1,000-pound bombs for about an hour. All six ammunition bunkers targeted in the attack _ a mile from Bosnian Serb headquarters in Pale _ were destroyed or damaged, the NATO commander for the former Yugoslavia said.

About 30 minutes into the attack, a huge blast shook Pale, raising a cloud of dust and smoke a half-mile high that could be seen in Sarajevo, 10 miles north.

In Rome, Defense Secretary William Perry said NATO will continue its air strikes until the Serbs halt their attacks.

``I fully support the NATO action. ... I believe it will be a robust action, a vigorous action,″ he said. ``In time, it will achieve the expected result, but I don’t expect it to occur immediately.″

The war heated up last week when Serbs battered Sarajevo with the most vicious shelling in two years. Fueling the clashes was the United States’ failure to pressure the Serbs’ former patron, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, to recognize Bosnia and to finally cut off the nationalist Serb rebellion he incited three years ago.

NATO attacked Pale on Thursday to punish Serbs for defying a deadline to return four heavy weapons taken from a U.N. depot near Sarajevo. The Serbs responded to the air strikes by barraging five U.N.-protected cities with shells that killed 76 people.

In the northern Bosnian city of Tuzla on Thursday, two Serb shells slammed into a crowded cafe, killing 71. Dazed survivors dragged bodies to private cars, helping ambulances bring the victims to the hospital. Blankets seeping blood covered the floor. Parts of the parking lot were scarlet with blood.

Serbs shelled Tuzla again this morning.

Even before the attack on Tuzla on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, the U.N. commander in Bosnia, was warning of NATO air strikes if heavy weapons in and around Sarajevo weren’t pulled out or turned over to the United Nations. Adm. Leighton Smith, the NATO commander for the former Yugoslavia, told a news conference in Naples, Italy, that alliance planes destroyed two ammunition bunkers Thursday and destroyed or damaged six more today. He denied Serb reports of civilian casualties and a downed NATO plane.

``This is a criminal act without any justification or reason ... showing the United Nations’ inability to solve this conflict politically,″ Momcilo Krajisnik, a senior Bosnian Serb leader, told reporters.

The United Nations was studying possible targets for NATO warplanes in the Tuzla area, Eckhard said in Zagreb, Croatia.

Cmdr. Ron Morse, spokesman for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt was moving into the Adriatic from the Mediterranean but that the U.S. military had not ``done anything unusual to respond to the circumstances.″

Worried that an escalation of Serb and NATO raids could lead to a forced U.N. withdrawal from Bosnia, the British and German leaders asked Russian President Boris Yeltsin to intervene with the Serbs, Moscow’s traditional ally.

And France sought a meeting with negotiators from the five countries trying to mediate an end to the Bosnian war.

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