Nato to give Serb general 72 hours

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The Independent Online
NATO last night was set to give rebel Bosnian Serbs 72 hours to withdraw heavy weapons from Sarajevo, end attacks on the four "safe areas" and reopen Sarajevo airport or face more retaliatory air strikes. The early response of the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, to the UN's demands was deemed "insufficient". In 14 hours of talks with the UN commander, General Bernard Janvier, Gen Mladic had imposed several conditions, including a demand that the Bosnian government remove their weapons.

After flying 800 combat sorties and firing more than 1,200 artillery rounds since Wednesday against the Bosnian Serbs, the Western alliance on Friday ordered a temporary halt to give them pause for thought.

"If compliance is not fully satisfactory, air strikes will resume immediately," a Nato statement said. Furthermore, any new attacks on "safe areas" will trigger immediate retaliatory bombing raids. The Nato statement orders the Bosnian Serbs to reopen Sarajevo airport, which has been shut since April because of Serb threats against aid planes, and grant the UN full freedom of movement.

Nato and the UN will assess compliance with the demands on Tuesday and warned the authorities in Pale that "if compliance is initially satisfactory, but there is non-compliance later, air strikes will resume." The statement asked the Bosnian government not to take advantage of the situation.

Yesterday Bosnian police said at least six people in Mojmilo, a southern suburb of Sarajevo, were wounded by a Serb howitzer shell. Two children, an 11-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, were in serious condition.

The rapid reaction force, made up of French, British and Dutch soldiers, fired 24 artillery shells at a Bosnian Serb mortar position just west of Sarajevo after Serbs narrowly missed a UN observation post with a single mortar shell.

Nato sources, speaking in Brussels after a briefing by the US envoy Richard Holbrooke to alliance ambassadors, said conditions set by Gen Mladic for the withdrawal of heavy weapons were not considered acceptable. The sources said Mr Holbrooke had urged the Nato allies to maintain pressure on the Bosnian Serbs and not agree to call off the combat mission until Gen Mladic "matched words with deeds".

Why Nato went in, page 17

Robert Fisk's view, page 18

Leading article, page 20