Nato jets pound Serb positions across Bosnia

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The Independent Online


Nato jets launched sweeping air raids yesterday against Bosnian Serb military targets in retaliation for General Ratko Mladic's refusal to withdraw heavy weapons from positions around Sarajevo and end his three- year siege of the city. Politicians from Pale, the rebel Serb "capital", telephoned the UN to underline their willingness to comply with all demands but there were no signs of movement on the ground.

More than 60 alliance aircraft were dispatched to bomb Serb military targets across Bosnia, including ammunition dumps, communications links and, for the first time, barracks where heavy weapons had been stored. "Air strikes were re-initiated on the basis that the Bosnian Serbs had not met any demands," Lt-Col Chris Vernon, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo, said.

Jets roared over the city at lunch time to drop bombs on Lukavica barracks, south of Sarajevo, sending clouds of smoke high above the surrounding hills, and attacked targets in eastern Bosnia. Nato officials last night said they did not yet know what had been hit, but implied the raids were at least as big as those conducted last week in response to a Serb mortar attack that killed 38 people in Sarajevo.

Sources at Nato and the UN refused to specify what kind of Serb response would encourage at least a pause in the bombing. "We want them to figure that out for themselves," Captain Jim Mitchell, a Nato spokesman in Naples, said.

"They have to be really interested in having this end - I think they know how to do it, " Capt Mitchell added. Gen Mladic was silent after the latest attacks - which might have come perilously close to his underground headquarters. However, several shells hit Sarajevo, at least one near a UN base, hours after the strikes resumed. Three people were injured, including one boy who lost a leg. French gunners of the UN Rapid Reaction Force responded by attacking a Bosnian Serb artillery position.

John Major stressed Britain's "full support" for the resumption of air strikes. "The threat to Sarajevo must be removed for good", he said. Meanwhile the US peace envoy, Richard Holbrooke, said he had "productive" talks in Belgrade with the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, ahead of a meeting of Yugoslav, Croatian and Bosnian foreign ministers in Geneva later this week.