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NATO Collects Weapons Around Tense Northeastern Region

November 14, 1996

CELIC, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Attempting a clampdown on increasing post-war violence, NATO troops today confiscated hundreds of weapons from a Bosnian army warehouse near the scene of a recent Serb-Muslim shootout.

The weapons, found in a warehouse near the northeastern town of Celic, included nearly 200 rifles, two armored vehicles, thousands of rounds of ammunition and several small anti-aircraft guns.

The NATO sweep came two days after the worst wave of violence to hit Bosnia since the war ended a year ago.

A fight about homes erupted early Tuesday in northeastern Bosnia around the village of Gajevi in a demilitarized zone between the Serb and Muslim-Croat halves of the country.

Bosnian Serb police and men in civilian clothes battled Muslims using automatic weapons and rifle-propelled grenades in an exchange that left one Muslim dead and produced conflicting reports on Serbs and Muslims wounded.

On Wednesday, hundreds of Muslims who were headed for homes they claimed in the nearby town of Koraj, on the Serb side of the zone, gathered at a checkpoint of the NATO-led peace force near Celic, leaving open the possibility of renewed fighting.

The all-day protest dispersed at dusk after the mayor of Muslim-controlled Celic appealed to them to leave.

Koraj was a predominantly Muslim town before the war and is now in Serb territory beyond the demilitarized zone that contains Gajevi.

Responding to the escalation of tension, international mediators have suspended refugee resettlement across the entire 2 1/2-mile zone of separation.

The mediators accused both sides of serious violations of the peace agreement.

But NATO officials, speaking today on condition of anonymity, would not say whether Serb weapons also were being confiscated.

Most weapons are banned in the separation zones between the former conflicting parties, but the weapons taken by the NATO-led peace force appeared to have been on the territory of the Muslim-Croat federation comprising half of Bosnia.

Asked why the weapons were taken if not in the zone, one NATO official said: ``The peacekeepers have the right to confiscate any weapon they consider to be a threat to the peace.″

NATO and international officials charged there was evidence that Bosnian army members were involved in Tuesday’s fighting. U.S. troops on the ground said all the Muslims were in civilian clothes.

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