Shelling shatters UN truce after blue helmets move in

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The Independent Online
ARTILLERY shells and machine-gun fire struck Sarajevo yesterday evening, shattering a United Nations-brokered ceasefire. The attack came after a day of calm when Serbian forces, under threat of Nato air raids, allowed UN peace-keepers to move into front-line positions around Sarajevo in the face of the ultimatum designed to lift the siege of the Bosnian capital.

Three shells crashed into the city and were followed by a heavy barrage of machine-gun fire, which lasted about 10 minutes, witnesses said. According to the communique that ended the Nato ambassadors' meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, attacks against civilian targets in Sarajevo could precipitate immediate retaliation from the air, as from midnight last night. The White House press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, said Washington was looking into the ceasefire violation.

Earlier six French army mechanised platoons, each with 40 soldiers and 90mm cannon, were deployed in six front-line zones of Sarajevo, Colonel Richard Pernod, a UN Protection Force spokesman, said.

Serbian and Muslim government officers were to meet today to set in motion withdrawals of Serbian artillery ringing the city. Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, UN force commander in Bosnia, on Wednesday brokered an accord with Serbs and Muslims to begin withdrawing Serbian guns from noon yesterday, but none has yet been withdrawn.

Last night at the UN, Russia's ambassador, Yuli Vorontsov, said that he would propose the UN put Sarajevo under its control but would not try to block a possible use of air power by Nato against Serbian militia. Russia had called earlier for an urgent Council meeting to voice its concern over the possibility of air strikes. The 15-member Council plans to hold an open debate today on the crisis but Russia lacks the support of the nine council members required to adopt a resolution changing the air strike threat.

In an interview with Russian television before a visit to that country next week, John Major emphasised that Nato was not taking sides. 'The objectives that the Russian government have are the same objectives that we have in the West,' he said.

Amid growing signs in Whitehall that Britain had bowed to strong pressure from the US and France to back the air-strike ultimatum, President Bill Clinton was said to have made it clear to Mr Major on Wednesday that the alliance would be under severe threat if Britain did not support Washington. Downing Street last night fiercely denied Mr Major was 'leaned on'.

Britain has suspended its aid convoys in Bosnia to protect government drivers and support personnel from retaliation after the ultimatum. The move was disclosed as Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, went out of his way to damp down considerable unease among senior Tory backbenchers, and some ministers, over the prospects of British troops being drawn increasingly into the conflict.

A spokesman for the Overseas Development Administration last night confirmed that a Briton was one of three UN aid workers being held against their will in Banja Luka. The spokesman would not name the man.

In Geneva, the UN agreed to set up a commission of inquiry into last weekend's Sarajevo market massacre, so allowing peace talks to continue, a conference spokesman said.

Parliament, page 11

Milosevic stays out, page 12

Leading article, page 17

Andrew Marr, page 19