Nato pledges further attacks on Serbs

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The Independent Online
Sunday night's cruise missile attack on Bosnian Serb air defences outside Banja Luka caused "severe damage" but did not wipe out the air-defence systems, Nato said yesterday, adding that air attacks would continue until the threat to its pilots had been removed.

Alliance spokesmen rebutted suggestions that the cruise missile attack marked a significant escalation in the campaign against the Bosnian Serbs which began on 30 August. They said missiles had been selected as the best weapon for the job because of their great accuracy, the bad weather and the danger to pilots over Banja Luka, deep in Serb-held territory. But at $1.3m (pounds 950,000) each, they were a expensive option.

Last night, in a linked move, six F-117 Stealth fighter aircraft, able to evade detection and deliver bombs with extreme accuracy, were due to join other United States aircraft at Aviano airbase in northern Italy. The Stealth fighters were used alongside cruise missiles at the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf war to weaken Iraqi air defences before ordinary aircraft were sent in.

But in a sign that the Nato operation is increasingly straining relations between Moscow and the West, Russia's envoy to Brussels, Vitaly Churkin, requested an urgent meeting with Nato ambassadors to outline his government's complaints.

"In our view, what is going on now is a very risky thing," he said, arguing that Nato was taking the law into its own hands. In an attempt to further force open these divisions, the Bosnian Serbs called on Russia late last night to issue an ultimatum to Nato to stop bombing their territory, saying the attacks jeopardised the peace process.

US officials acknowledged increasing concern over Russian criticisms of the Nato air strikes but said they doubted Moscow would pull out of its Partnership for Peace agreement with Nato - action urged on President Boris Yeltsin at the weekend by the Russian parliament.

So far, the Nato campaign has not appeared to dent Bosnian Serb intransigence, but a United Nations source said yesterday he detected signs of a weakening in Gen Ratko Mladic's resolve. A "short and sour" meeting on Sunday between the Bosnian Serb commander and Gen Bernard Janvier, the UN Force commander, brokered by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and President Jacques Chirac of France, ended with Gen Mladic adamant that he would not withdraw heavy weapons from Sarajevo. He maintained that he could not withdraw his guns without endangering Serbs in the area - an argument dismissed by the UN.

But the UN source said that while Gen Mladic was ordered to attend Sunday's meeting by Mr Milosevic, and went "a bit against his will", he gave the impression of being interested in a way out. Another official said of the Bosnian Serbs: "I think they are approaching breaking point. They will have to give in."

The rebel Serb authorities in Pale claimed "massive damage" and "many casualties" from the 13 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from the USS Normandy on Sunday night, adding to 100 to 200 reported civilian deaths from air raids. The attack was the first use of cruise missiles in Europe.

Under heavy international pressure, the Bosnian government has agreed not to take advantage of Nato raids around Sarajevo. However, government troops reported military advances in central Bosnia yesterday, underlining that this commitment did not mean a ceasefire throughout Bosnia.

The Bosnian army said its troops captured the town of Vozuca on Sunday, giving them control of a vital all-weather road connecting the cities of Zenica and Tuzla.

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