Serbs burn houses as they pull back

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serb forces withdrew from Gorazde yesterday, burning and destroying as they went. Their departure was surrounded by the mixture of farce and tragedy that has characterised Western involvement in Bosnia, causing a blazing row between Nato and the United Nations.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN Commander in Bosnia, said aerial reconnaissance showed the Serbs were moving weapons out of the area but Yasushi Akashi, the UN special envoy, told reporters: 'Serb forces are moving out step by step but we are concerned that they are doing so by burning houses along the way.' He said they blew up a water treatment plant, violating the spirit of the ceasefire deal.

After being delayed by Bosnian Serbs for several hours, a UN aid convoy of 14 Russian trucks loaded with 89 tons of flour reached Gorazde last night, after setting out from Belgrade in the morning.

Nato and the UN tried to brush under the carpet a weekend confrontation, but there remained deep unhappiness over a new UN decision to block air strikes. Nato had said it would bomb Bosnian Serb forces if they attacked Gorazde before or after Sunday's withdrawal deadline.

On Saturday morning, shelling continued and Nato asked for air strikes. Mr Akashi refused, apparently because he believed a ceasefire and withdrawal were in prospect. That refusal allowed Serbs to keep on firing, killing civilians and damaging an ammunition factory.

Manfred Worner, Nato's secretary-general, rang Mr Akashi to protest but got nowhere. General Rose made a rare personal approach last week to Boutros Boutros-Ghali, UN Secretary-General, trying to get easier air support access after his requests had been rejected 10 days ago.

When Western ambassadors met on Friday to agree air-strike terms they specifically intended to circumvent similar blockages. This latest incident again shows the uncertainty over Nato's role.

Hours after Mr Akashi blocked strikes, Mr Boutros-Ghali said that if the Bosnian Serbs did not withdraw, he would immediately authorise action. The withdrawal took several hours beyond the deadline but alliance sources had not pressed again for action, seeing the end in sight.

There are two more hurdles. Nato has pledged that if a 20-kilometre exclusion zone is not created by midnight tomorrow it will attack any Bosnian Serb heavy weapons still in place and other 'military targets'. The alliance is also committed to defending other 'safe areas' - Srebrenice, Zepa, Tuzla and Bihac - but Russia has raised doubts about that at the UN Security Council.

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