NATO Strikes to Punish Serbs for Failure to Withdraw
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Its patience exhausted by shifting Serb signals, NATO launched new air attacks Tuesday meant to force the rebels to pull their big guns out of range of Sarajevo.
The airstrikes appeared to end about an hour after they started, at least around Sarajevo. But U.N. and NATO officials said they were open-ended.
``The attacks will go on until the Serbs comply with our demands,″ said U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness. ``We hope that a strong signal being sent to the Bosnian Serbs will make them realize that the international community is serious.″
However, heavy rain that began Tuesday night around Sarajevo limited the chances of new NATO attacks until the weather improved.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said U.S. warplanes flying from Aviano, Italy, and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Adriatic Sea made up more than half the NATO strike force. A Western military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said about 80 U.S. warplanes were involved.
Tuesday’s targets _ similar to those attacked last week _ included ammunition depots and communications facilities, Bacon said.
The primary aim of the bombardment was to stop the shelling of civilians by forcing the Serbs to pull some 300 heavy weapons at least 12 1/2 miles away from besieged Sarajevo. But the NATO planes were not always able to get at Serb artillery emplacements because of their proximity to populated areas.
U.N. forces, which backed up NATO planes last week, helped out again Tuesday, destroying a Serb mortar south of the city as it was preparing to fire, U.N. officials said.
The Bosnian Serb military leader, Gen. Ratko Mladic, offered Monday to call a unilateral cease-fire around Sarajevo. But he refused to pull back the guns, defying a pledge to do so by Bosnian Serb political leaders.
NATO airstrikes resumed about 12 hours after the deadline for the Serbs to comply had expired.
The Bosnian Serb military said Tuesday’s raids caused extensive damage and civilian casualties.
Bosnian Serb television showed several demolished houses, a crying woman dressed in black and a man almost cut in half lying in a coffin. It said one civilian was killed and a woman and two children were wounded when NATO planes bombed Hresa, a village northeast of Sarajevo.
There was no confirmation.
The Western allies also have demanded that the rebel Serbs reopen Sarajevo’s airport and land routes into the city, and end attacks on the three other U.N.-declared ``safe areas.″
The airstrikes also were meant to emphasize the West’s seriousness before peace talks resume Friday.
The United Nations wants the Serbs to accept a U.S. initiative that would give them 49 percent of Bosnia, compared with the nearly 70 percent they hold now. A Bosnian Croat and Muslim federation would get the rest.
``They cannot win this war through an escalation of a military conflict,″ Gunness said in Zagreb, Croatia. ``They have to sit now at the negotiating table and talk peace.″
President Clinton said the NATO airstrikes Tuesday were an ``appropriate″ response to the Serbs’ refusal to end their 3 1/2-year-old siege of Sarajevo. Russia, traditional ally of the Serbs, claimed the Serbs were preparing to pull back when the attacks came, and accused the West of siding with Bosnia’s Muslim-led government.
In Sarajevo, people craned their necks as warplanes zoomed over around noon. The mood was festive. After the initial three-day wave of airstrikes ended last Friday, many had begun to get discouraged about the possibility of continued NATO action.
But danger remained. U.N. officials reported some sniper fire in the city, and the Bosnian Health Ministry said snipers killed a civilian and wounded another. Three others were wounded by shells exploding in the northern part of the city, said hospital officials.
U.N. officials said late Tuesday that shells were landing near their headquarters.
Earlier, U.N. officials in the northern town of Tuzla reported three explosions in the area of a Serb-held hillside communications tower, apparently from NATO attacks.
Bosnian Serb radio said the tower, on the Majevica hills, had been damaged, destroying television relays as well as cutting phone lines between eastern and western parts of territory they hold in Bosnia and with Serbia.
One U.N. source in Sarajevo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said NATO planes also targeted a large Bosnian Serb barracks in the southern suburb of Lukavica. U.N. officials had been gathering weaponry there for a possible pullout.
The Serb military statement said targets in Lukavica were hit twice. Serbs reported one explosion near the Bosnian Serb headquarters of Pale, nine miles southeast of Sarajevo; six on nearby Mount Jahorina; six more around the southwest Sarajevo suburb of Hadzici; and one at Hresa, just northeast of Sarajevo.
U.N. officials in Zagreb said two heavily armed British Warrior vehicles ``neutralized″ a Serb mortar on Mount Igman, south of Sarajevo. The force, dominated by British and French troops, hit dozens of Serb mortars and cannons last week with its own heavy artillery.
Mladic’s refusal to move his guns appeared to override an offer by Nikola Koljevic, chief deputy of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
Karadzic and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic _ normally Mladic’s backer _ wanted the weapons pulled back, according to a Bosnian Serb source who spoke on condition of anonymity. The source added that Milosevic was angered by Mladic’s defiance.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who is trying to organize support for the U.S. peace initiative, planned to meet again with Milosevic on Wednesday.
The peace talks are to begin in Geneva on Friday.
The three days of NATO strikes began last Wednesday, two days after a Serb mortar shell exploded in a crowded Sarajevo market, killing 38 people. The pause in air attacks was meant to give the Serbs time to accept the U.N. demands.