The rebel Serb army in Bosnia has been ordered to end its three-year siege of Sarajevo immediately or face a devastating resumption of the Nato and UN air and artillery campaign.
The UN will begin assessing Serb compliance with its demands at 10pm London time tonight, officials said, but it is unclear whether that constitutes a formal deadline.
General Bernard Janvier, the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) Commander, has written to the Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic demanding that he end attacks on Sarajevo and three other UN-declared "safe areas".
The Bosnian Serbs also have been ordered to withdraw heavy weapons 12 miles from the capital, to allow unhindered access to Sarajevo airport, and to open all main roads in to the city, including those through Serb territory.
"We are going to do an assessment within hours, not days," Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman in Zagreb, said yesterday. "If compliance is not fully satisfactory, air strikes will resume immediately." He added, however, that there was no specific deadline.
The US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Holbrooke, insisted none the less that bombing would resume today if the Serbs failed to meet international demands. Asked about apparent confusion over the deadlines, Mr Holbrooke said: "Tomorrow sounds like ours to me." He dined last night with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, commenting on his way into Mr Milosevic's residence: "I'm just going in to see where we are.''
Bosnian Serb political leaders met for two hours yesterday after the ultimatum was issued but gave no response.
It was made clear to Gen Mladic at the weekend that a resumed Nato air campaign would make even last week's strikes look puny. In a long, bad- tempered meeting with Gen Janvier, the Bosnian Serb commander accepted most of the international demands, but added conditions of his own. This response was brusquely rejected by Nato ambassadors in Brussels on Saturday night.
There were no signs last night of the Serbs withdrawing any weapons but Sarajevo was quiet. Eleven Bosnian trucks crossed the airport safely in the afternoon, after peace-keepers reopened the route. "The atmosphere is pretty tense," said one Unprofor official. "Everyone is waiting to see what the Serbs' next move will be."
Four of the five European Union observers initially reported killed after the Nato air strikes arrived in Madrid yesterday. The three Spanish diplomats and an Irishman, Captain James Fitzgibbon, flew in from Belgrade. The fifth man, from the Netherlands, went on to the European Union Monitoring Mission's base in Montenegro.
French and Nato officials maintained a blackout on the fate of two French pilots missing since their jet was shot down near Pale last week. But a farmer in Gornja Sjetlina, five miles east of Pale, said they parachuted into a meadow and were taken away by military and civilian policemen.Reuse content