Bosnia flights stop as Nato and UN clash

The United Nations has stopped Nato air missions over Bosnia. The move comes close to ending the alliance's role in the Balkan conflict.

A source told the Independent that UN military authorities in Bosnia had been imposing increasingly tough limits on Nato patrols with the intention of ending them. Britain and France have worked to limit Nato involvement and the source said that they had been working with the UN military authorities.

A furious row broke out between the two organisations yesterday, with the Nato secretary-general, Willy Claes, and UN spokesmen repeatedly contradicting each other. Mr Claes insisted that Nato was still enforcing the UN-declared no-fly zone over Bosnia, but a UN spokesman in Sarajevo said Nato had stood down patrols at the UN's request.

The row flared as the five-nation Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia continued its push for a Bosnia peace deal. After meeting in Brussels, foreign ministers said an existing peace plan carving up Bosnia 49 to 51 per cent between Serbs and Muslims still remained the basis of any final settlement.

However, in spite of strong reservations from the Germans, the group agreed to links between Bosnian Serbs and Serbia in any future Bosnian confederation. Relations between Nato and the UN have deteriorated rapidly since the Bosnian Serbs threatened last week to overrun the UN ''safe area'' of Bihac - apparently furthering the aim of creating a ''Greater Serbia''.

In Sarajevo, the UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, and other officials yesterday had a narrow escape when Bosnian Serbs hit the presidency building in Sarajevo with two wire-guided missiles minutes after their arrival there for talks. Mr Akashi later went on to Pale, the Bosnian Serb capital, where he said Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, had agreed to release hundreds of UN peace-keepers detained after Nato air strikes two weeks ago.

One reason for the UN request that Nato stop its patrols was a fear that Nato planes might attack Serb missile batteries that locked on to alliance warplanes with radar. The UN spokesman Thant Myint-U said yesterday that such action by Nato could ''dramatically escalate the situation . . . there would be a massive escalation on the ground that could spin out of control''. Nato spokesmen, however, were angry at suggestions that its planes could be threatened by Serb surface-to-air missile sites.