Strains show as Nato continues onslaught on Serbs

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The Independent Online
Nato yesterday decided that its controversial air bombardment of the Bosnian Serbs would go on despite uneasiness at the top of the United Nations and increasing anger in Russia. The Western alliance was resolved that the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, must withdraw his heavy weapons from around Sarajevo and end the siege of the city, British officials said.

The air strikes continued yesterday, their psychological impact assisting Muslim and Croat forces to score new successes against the Bosnian Serbs in central Bosnia. The town of Jajce, where Tito's partisans proclaimed the foundation of Communist Yugoslavia in 1943, fell to Croat troops, the official Croatian news agency claimed last night.

The town of Donji Vakuf had also fallen and tens of thousands of Serbs were fleeing from advancing Muslim and Croat columns on two fronts in the centre of the country, according to the UN. Bosnian television yesterday claimed that government troops had launched an offensive from the enclave of Bihac towards Bosanski Petrovac. While the fighting intensified, the United States made a fresh effort to conduct negotiations between all three sides, sending its special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to Belgrade.

The US and its Western allies remain concerned to placate the Russians, whose policy is being influenced by an upsurge of nationalist outrage over the bombing of the Serbs. In Moscow, the US embassy was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, which damaged the building but injured nobody. A senior official dismissed the act as that of a "sole maniac".

The continued bombing campaign is causing strains not only between Washington and Moscow but also between Nato and the UN. Nato officials in Brussels said they had reassured the UN that there would be no immediate escalation. Nato governments were also determined not to let the air offensive turn into a formal war against the Bosnian Serbs, diplomats said.

Alliance sources said Nato's Secretary-General, Willy Claes, had contacted the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to make clear that Nato would not expand its objectives beyond securing Sarajevo and other UN "safe areas" against attack. "The UN and Nato are in agreement on this," an official said.

But in New York, arguments raged among Mr Boutros-Ghali's advisers about the UN's handling of the Yugoslav crisis since it surrendered effective control of military operations to Nato and ceded the diplomatic initiative to the US. Russia failed to get a resolution demanding suspension of the bombing through the Security Council. But other Security Council members are also concerned about the conduct of the bombardment. A European source revealed yesterday that neither US allies nor the UN were given notice before the launch of US cruise missiles against Serb air defence systems.

Mr Boutros-Ghali has recalled his senior military and political envoys from the Balkans to confer over what to do next. But diplomats in Geneva and New York concur that the UN has completely lost the initiative and can do little to regain it.

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