Serbs continue attack despite Nato warning

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The Independent Online
Serbian tanks, artillery and infantry yesterday pushed into the outskirts of the Bosnian Muslim-held town of Bihac, challenging Nato to launch fresh air strikes to protect the United Nations-declared safe area. ``Fighting is closing in and the possibility of a serious incident cannot be ruled out,'' said a UN spokesman.

A Bosnian government-controlled news agency said Serbs were engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with Muslim and Croat fighters in one suburb of Bihac. The agency said Serbian forces were only a mile from the centre of Bihac, an overwhelmingly Muslim town in north-western Bosnia that has been besieged by the Serbs for more than two years.

On Monday, Nato launched the biggest attack in its 45-year history, using nearly 40 jets to strike at the Serbian-held airfield of Udbina in Croatia. Serbian forces based in Krajina, Croatia, used the airfield to attack Bihac in co-ordination with their Bosnian Serb allies earlier this month.

``You mounted brutal and merciless aerial attacks and at the same time ask for mercy for your personnel,'' the Bosnian Serb military leader, General Ratko Mladic, wrote to the UN Force Commander, General Bertrand de Lapresle, yesterday. He compared the UN presence to the Nazi occupation in the Second World War, adding: ``I see no reason for the further deployment of your personnel on the territory [of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb republic] or a way to protect you.''

His political master, Radovan Karadzic, threatened revenge for the ``criminal act by a criminal regional organisation called Nato. We are considering retaliation. We will choose the time and the target and we will take care that it is painful for the Nato states.''

Bosnian Serbs fired missiles at two British Sea Harriers near Banja Luka, according to Nato sources. The jets, which had taken off from HMS Invincible in the Adriatic, were not hit and completed their patrol.

Raising the stakes in the conflict, the US Defense Secretary, William Perry, warned Nato would launch an even more fierce air attack if the Serbs attempted more bombing raids on the Bihac enclave. ``If they go in tomorrow or the next day with another bombing attack, then we'll go back and blow up their airplanes,'' he said.

Sarajevo radio said one person had been killed and one wounded last night in shelling of the UN ``safe area'' of Tuzla.