Boutros hands over trigger for Bosnia air strikes

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, yesterday delegated authority to approve air strikes in Bosnia to his representative in the field.

From now on, if the UN force commander considers that Serbian shelling of Sarajevo, or any other military action, warrants air strikes by Nato, the authority to approve them rests with Yasushi Akashi, the UN special representative in former Yugoslavia.

However, in a letter to the UN Security Council, Mr Boutros-Ghali made no specific reference to the procedures he might adopt if the Serbs failed to comply with Nato's 20 February deadline for moving guns out of range of Sarajevo or handing them over to the UN. That was a nod to Russian sensitivities about air strikes.

In a letter to Mr Akashi, the Secretary-General also asked the UN force commander in former Yugoslavia to 'finalise procedures' for initiation and conduct of any strikes with the Nato commander. That is already well under way. The RAF raised the number of Jaguar bombers at Giaoia del Colle, Italy, from eight to 12 yesterday. The United States is also to send eight F-15E bombers to Italy in the next few days.

The UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, yesterday accused renegade troops of trying to sabotage the ceasefire in Sarajevo, but both sides began to hand over some heavy weapons. General Rose said he was 'reasonably satisfied' with the ceasefire that began on Thursday, despite a burst of gunfire late in the day.

He told Channel Four News last night that he might call for 'extra assistance', as his forces were already 'extremely stretched'.

UN sources said the Serbs turned an artillery piece, a small rocket launcher and at least one mortar over to peace-keepers at the main Serbian barracks at Lukavica, outside Sarajevo. In the Bosnian capital, government forces placed two 120mm mortars and an 82mm mortar under the control of UN troops.

The British embassy in Belgrade said it was preparing to evacuate some British nationals from rump Yugoslavia, beginning today.

John Major will travel to Moscow on Monday for three days of talks with President Boris Yeltsin to try to convince Russian leaders that Western policy in Bosnia 'is neither partisan nor directed against the Serbs', a British source said yesterday.

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