Serbs shoot down British jet as all-out conflict looms

THE United Nations and the Bosnian Serbs edged close to all-out conflict last night after Bosnian Serb forces shot down a Royal Navy Sea Harrier jet over the Muslim-held 'safe area' of Gorazde and their tanks rolled into the town.

In the town thousands of terrified Muslims were hiding in cellars to avoid the shelling.

UN commanders ordered air strikes against the Bosnian Serb tanks but according to officials poor weather prevented Nato jets from carrying out the bombing raids.

The Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, said he understood the strikes were called for by Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, British commander of UN forces in Bosnia, as shells fell on a local hospital. 'My understanding . . . is that the Harriers were called in by the UN because of an artillery attack on Gorazde. I've heard suggestions that a hospital had appeared to have been targeted and in these circumstances close air support was called for,' Mr Rifkind said.

Three tank rounds were reported to have hit the hospital, after which UN observers made contact with the Serbs accusing them of a gross violation of normal standards. The Serbs said the tank firing at the hospital was not theirs and the UN gave them a 15-minute deadline to destroy the tank.

Unprofor officials said cloud cover prevented allied pilots identifying targets, and during the delay caused by the weather, the Harrier was shot down by a missile. Other planes were called in to give close air support, but no ordnance was dropped because of poor weather and ground fire.

The UN special envoy to former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, said that it would be meaningless for Unprofor to remain in Bosnia 'unless there was serious and manifest intention by the Bosnian Serb army supported by clear action and co-operation on the ground'. A UN statement said Mr Akashi was reviewing the future role of Unprofor in Bosnia and a report would be presented to the UN Security Council soon.

In Gorazde, radio hams reported Serb tanks in the streets and said defenders could hold out only for a few hours. The tanks were firing on residential buildings and Gorazde defences were crumbling, Sarajevo radio reported. The Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, who is personally directing the attack on the town, was quoted by Belgrade's B92 radio as saying that his forces would have completed the capture of the town by today. 'The town is full of grim- looking (Bosnian Muslim) soldiers, which indicates that the suburbs have fallen,' a UN official said.

In other ominous signs that war looms closer, Serbs fired at and hit a plane carrying the UN commander for former Yugoslavia, General Bertrand de Lapresle, as it landed at Sarajevo airport yesterday.

UN officials also said yesterday that the two British soldiers who were injured in the Serb attack on Gorazde on Friday had been deliberately targeted after being identified as UN personnel. One died later of his wounds after being airlifted out to a UN hospital in Sarajevo. He was Corporal Fergus Rennie, 28, single, from Reading, Berkshire.

The attacks on the British soldiers mark a severe escalation of the policy of harassment carried out by the Serbs against UN peace-keepers in Bosnia, about 200 of whom are thought to be held hostage.

It has also emerged that General Rose called for air strikes on Friday to protect the UN personnel in the town. But his request was refused. Fears for the safety of the UN hostages, and a reluctance in Washington to anger the Russians, meant that the Serbian advance into Gorazde was carried out while Nato jets flew harmlessly overhead.

The Bosnian Serbs, furious with General Rose for ordering the first air strikes against them early last week, have turned withering political fire against him, all but demanding that the UN sack him. The Bosnian Serb Army command accused him yesterday of being haughty, inflexible, and a figure incompatible with the peace process.

Last night the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, telephoned his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, in an attempt to avert Nato air strikes aginst the Bosnian Serbs, Itar-Tass news agency said.

Mr Kozyrev left Moscow yesterday for the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, to discuss the crisis. He joins his deputy, Vitaly Churkin, Russia's envoy for the former Yugoslavia, who is currently trying to mediate.

A senior administration official in Washington said last night the United States believed 'some progress' had been made in ending the siege of Gorazde. The official said his optimism involved behind-the-scenes efforts involving the special US envoy to Bosnia Charles Redman, Mr Churkin, and the United Nations. He declined to elaborate but dismissed a suggestion that UN policies dealing with Gorazde had failed.


Sunday 10 April: after a 10-day Serbian assault on the Muslim enclave of Gorazde, Nato F-16 planes attack a Serbian artillery command post in the area. Russia denounces the Nato strikes.

Monday: the Serbian offensive on Gorazde continues. Nato planes attack Serbian positions again, but some bombs fail to go off.

Thursday: Serbs keep almost 200 UN civilian and military personnel effective hostage in Bosnian Serb-held territory.

Friday: a British soldier is killed and another wounded as Serbs break down Gorazde's defences. Russia makes clear it will not join Nato's Partnership for Peace programme.

Saturday: a British Harrier plane is shot down over Gorazde.

Crippling blow, page 10

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'