UK troops fire back at Serbs

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BRITISH soldiers in Bosnia shot back at Serbian positions with high-velocity rapid-firing cannon for the first time yesterday after coming under mortar fire on a notorious stretch of road known as 'Bomb Alley'.

There were no casualties among the Britons or the United Nations aid convoy they were escorting. It is not known whether the Serbs suffered losses.

The incident happened where the first British armoured force to escort an aid convoy came under fire on 20 November. Since then convoys on the road from Kladanj, 75km (47 miles) west of the main British base at Vitez, north to Tuzla have repeatedly come under inaccurate mortar fire. They have returned fire with machine-guns before.

The Army said they had to open fire to protect Danish lorries which had delivered 100 tonnes of supplies to the UN depot at Tuzla.

The Ministry of Defence said the British response was 'fairly robust'. It was the first time they used the accurate 30mm Rarden cannon to protect vulnerable lorries, although there is also an element of exasperation with the Serbs, who continue to fire at clearly marked aid convoys.

A troop of four Scimitar light tanks of the 9th/12th Lancers were escorting the lorries back to Kladanj and were within 4km (2.4 miles) of the base when the rounds landed. 'It happens so often that we don't even report it any more,' an army spokesman at Vitez said. But because the unarmoured trucks were at risk, the Lancers swung their turrets left and brought down 'suppressive fire'; 17 cannon shells and 125 machine- gun rounds were fired.

Serbian positions are a short distance east of the road. The British have repeatedly complained about the attacks but the Serbs say they cannot tell whether a column of vehicles belongs to the HVO - the Bosnian Croatian guerrilla army - or the UN, especially when dark, as yesterday. The Serbs would have seen lights from a column just behind the horizon, and opened fire.

The Lancers fired a mix of high-explosive and solid armour-piercing shot that can penetrate 40mm of sloped armour at a mile.

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