Serb guns silenced by second air strike: Yeltsin condemns lack of US consultation over Nato action

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serb forces stopped their heavy shelling of the Muslim enclave of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia last night after the second Nato air strike in two days.

The Pentagon said two US F-18A jets used bombs and 20mm cannon fire to destroy at least three Bosnian Serb armoured personnel carriers and a lorry. Other sources said a T-55 tank had been destroyed.

The US Secretary of State said last night that Nato was prepared to launch further strikes but urged the Serbs to ease their siege and resume peace talks. 'The United Nations and Nato have together shown their determination to respond to Serb attacks against UN personnel in the performance of their mandate,' Warren Christopher said.

Manfred Worner, the Secretary-General of Nato, warned the Bosnian Serbs against retaliation. So far, he said, Nato had used only a few of the 100-plus aircraft at its disposal.

In the immediate aftermath of the air raid, shells continued to rain down on Gorazde. 'Artillery is pounding Gorazde from all sides. The town is burning,' reported a local official in a radio broadcast. Staff at the UN High Commission for Refugees reported 'indiscriminate shelling' and said all the windows were blown out of the UNHCR offices. But then, 90 minutes after the Nato air raid, the firing stopped.

The drama of Gorazde, where 156 people have been killed and 646 wounded since 29 March, threatened to turn into an East-West crisis as President Boris Yeltsin reacted with alarm and anger to the first attack on Sunday.

He complained that President Bill Clinton had not consulted him. 'I have insisted to Clinton time and again that such decisions cannot be taken without prior consultation between the United States and Russia,' the Russian President said.

President Clinton said he had telephoned Mr Yeltsin after Sunday's attack, saying it was conducted under UN authority. 'We are trying to work very closely with the Russians. They have a critical role to play if we are going to keep these peace talks going,' he said. The Russians, who have indicated they will not let the West impose peace on the Bosnian Serbs, called for a Serbian withdrawal from Gorazde, the disarming of Muslim forces in the enclave, and the deployment of UN troops.

Vitaly Churkin, special envoy for former Yugoslavia, said: 'We may be on a slippery slope in terms of international involvement in the fighting.' He did, however, criticise the Serbs for withholding crucial military information from Moscow. 'We have certain complaints against the Bosnian Serbs,' Mr Churkin told Russian television. 'In recent days, we drew to their attention an escalation of the situation. They told us nothing was happening and nothing would happen and that they had no military plans involving Goradze.'

Mr Churkin added: 'If Russia had been involved at that critical hour, we would have been able to influence the flow of events.' Mr Churkin's diplomacy persuaded Bosnian Serbs to neutralise their siege of Sarajevo during a Nato air strike threat in February.

Before yesterday's air raid, UN officials said Serbian forces had wounded about 200 refugees in the centre of Gorazde by artillery, tank and machine-gun fire. Nato planes then swooped low over Bosnian Serb positions, firing flares to underline the alliance's limited patience. Despite the warning, Serbs had continued their assault with an artillery barrage of about eight rounds a minute, Nato said.

The subsequent attack, officially characterised as a response to a request from UN personnel in Gorazde, began soon after 1pm London time. It was carried out by two FA- 18A planes of the US Marine Corps which dropped bombs and opened cannon fire.

Sunday's air raid was directed at a Bosnian Serb artillery command post and was the first time Nato had attacked a ground target in its 45- year existence. Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, said: 'By intervening with its air force, the UN has . . . taken part in the civil war on the side of the Muslims.'

Bosnian Serb forces reacted by suspending co-operation with UN forces in Bosnia and blocking UN and civilian traffic in and out of Sarajevo. The hardline leader of the Bosnian Serb parliament, Momcilo Krajisnik, threatened unspecified 'political and military moves' if Nato struck again.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said: 'Obviously the United Nations have positioned themselves on the Muslim side. This is a very crucial moment and we do not know how can we possibly co-operate further with Unprofor while they are one-sided in this civil war.'

As a precautionary measure, the UN has halted humanitarian aid airlifts to Sarajevo. There was also no sign of progress in UN efforts to persuade the Muslims and Serbs to discuss a general ceasefire.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian extreme nationalist who was in Strasbourg yesterday, said Russian planes should bomb Nato bases in Italy. Italy's defence minister called the threat 'absurd and delirious'.