Serbs blamed for Sarajevo carnage

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The Independent Online




The UN was last night considering air strikes in response to the deadliest mortar attack on Sarajevo for more than a year. At least 37 people were killed and more than 80 wounded when a mortar bomb crashed into the city's main shopping street yesterday morning as a senior US diplomat launched another round of peace talks.

Passers-by bundled the bloodstained dead and wounded into passing cars amid scenes of blood and panic in the centre of Sarajevo. It was the worst atrocity in the city since the shelling of the main marketplace, only a few yards from the scene of yesterday's attack, in February 1994.

"Mummy, I've lost my hand, I've lost my hand," a little girl cried as she was ferried to hospital. Staff at the Kosevo Hospital wept as the flow of wounded jammed the emergency room. Workers at the scene hosed pools of blood off the pavement once the bodies and limbs had been removed.

Relatives wailed and fainted when the lists of dead were posted outside the hospital, where the flood of injured was so great that staff were forced to treat some in the driveway. Last night, two patients were hurt when a second mortar bomb hit the hospital where the wounded were being treated.

French peace-keepers investigating the first attack examined the crater, surrounded by puddles of blood, and concluded that the shell was fired from the south of the city - from an area controlled mostly by the Bosnian Serbs. UN officials said they could not yet apportion blame, but were prepared for forceful reprisals once they were "100 per cent sure".

The UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, ordered his commanders in the former Yugoslavia "to investigate this attack immediately and to take appropriate action without delay". The US State Department called the attack a "crime against humanity", but its spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said it "remains to be seen" whether talks between UN and Nato officials would prompt retaliatory air strikes.

Any Nato action is likely to be delayed until the last 100 or so peace- keepers in the Muslim enclave of Gorazde, mostly British, leave today to avoid possible hostage-taking by the Bosnian Serbs. Air strikes will also complicate the US mission to restart peace talks. Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy who held talks in Paris yesterday with President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, said: "We want first of all to make clear that this will not stop the peace process."

Meanwhile it was made known that the French President, Jacques Chirac, who is to host a lunch for Mr Izetbegovic today, intends to propose the demilitarisation of Sarajevo as the only way to prevent renewed attacks on the Bosnian capital. This week's meetings in Paris are the first joint effort to discuss a Bosnian settlement since the death of the US negotiator, Robert Frasure, and two colleagues in a road accident near Sarajevo 10 days ago.