Sarajevo waits for power and peace

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The Independent Online
Bosnia's latest cease-fire was delayed last night after a tense day of shelling, Nato air strikes and failure to restore utilities to Sarajevo. "It will not happen because the conditions have not been met yet," said Hasan Muratovic, the Bosnian government's minister in charge of relations with the UN.

The ceasefire had been scheduled to take effect at one minute after midnight this morning. Mr Muratovic, appearing on Bosnian television, said the government and the Bosnian Serbs did as much as they could to restore electricity and natural gas service to Sarajevo, but could not get the job done. He said that the truce will take effect as soon as that work is done. Restoration of utilities to Sarajevo was a key condition of a ceasefire accord brokered last week by the United States.

Showing little sign that they would cease hostilities, Bosnian government and Serb troops fought pitched battles around several key towns in northwest Bosnia. "The whole area is very active ... lots of roads have been closed. We assume it's to ferry down the wounded," a Western military monitor said.

Monitors in Bihac in the northwest said battles were raging around Mrkonjic Grad, Kljuc and Bosanska Krupa, as the midnight deadline loomed.

Mrkonjic Grad lies on a strategic road intersection some 60 miles southeast of Bihac and 15 miles south of the Serb's northern stronghold of Banja Luka.

It has so far escaped being overrun by Muslim and Croat forces who captured 1,500 sq miles in the region in a rapid offensive last month.

The capture of Mrkonjic Grad would give the government army control of the Sarajevo-Bihac road, a vital all-weather route linking mainly-Muslim areas in central and western Bosnia which have been completely separated in the three and a half year war.

Earlier yesterday, Nato planes attacked Serb targets in northeastern Bosnia after Serb shelling of government territory killed a Norwegian peacekeeper and claimed dozens of civilian casualties. A Nato spokesman said that two Alliance aircraft dropped laser-guided bombs on Serb command- and-control posts near Tuzla.

But despite the sharp increase in shelling and fighting, the utilities problem appeared to be the main reason for delaying this ceasefire. Officials from the gas company flew to Moscow yesterday for talks on the issue; the Russians have refused to restore the flow, via Hungary, because they are owed more than $100m (pounds 63m) in unpaid bills for gas used in Sarajevo and diverted by the Serbs away from the city. Last night engineers from the Overseas Development Administration sat disconsolate by the phone awaiting the green light from Moscow. Once it comes, gas could reach the city within about 12 hours. Water will flow when the electrical supply is up and running.

Tide of war, page 13