UN envoy rules out need for air strikes

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The Independent Online
THE THREAT of Nato air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs receded last night after the United Nations said they had complied with the West's demand that they withdraw all their guns from the exclusion zone around Sarajevo or put them under UN control.

Minutes before the midnight deadline Yasushi Akashi, the special UN envoy to former Yugoslavia, said there was no need for air strikes. 'The work accomplished by Unprofor (the UN protection force) up to this point assures us there is no need for air strikes,' he said in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. He added that there had been a substantial withdrawal or regrouping of heavy weapons in and around Sarajevo.

'After consultation with Admiral Boorda of Nato, I am satisfied that we have achieved effective compliance with the requirement to remove or place under Unprofor control all heavy weapons within the 20 km (12 miles) Sarajevo exclusion zone,' Mr Akashi said. 'On the basis of the information available to me, and pending further verification, I have decided that it is not necessary at this stage for me to request Nato to use air power.' The order for air strikes had to come from the UN before Nato could act.

Earlier Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy, had said air strikes would not be in Nato's interests.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, said the Serbs had pulled out of 23 of 42 gun sites around Sarajevo. UN monitors had taken control of 10 of the remaining 19, but the situation remained unclear in the other nine.

In Moscow, the Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, said William Perry, the US Defense Secretary, had told him by telephone there would be no air strikes today.

Publicly at least, however, Nato continued to talk tough early yesterday. Five Nato defence ministers and their chiefs of staff met in Aviano, northern Italy, 30 minutes' flying time from Sarajevo, and insisted the air strikes could go ahead.

At the Aviano airbase, a dense white haze swallowed up jets as they streaked into the sky every few minutes on 'deny flight' missions, a reminder of the bad visibility that has dogged operations. Mr Perry had admitted bad weather over Sarajevo could be a 'significant hindrance' to bombing, but would not stop it completely. Several aircraft had modern sensors and could strike with precision.

Ministers had emphasised there could be no extension of the deadline for supposed weather difficulties in withdrawing artillery.

They only discussed the situation in Sarajevo, Mr Perry said, but if the Nato ultimatum is a success it could be the start of a peace plan for all Bosnia.

Some 400 Russian soldiers, led by the commander of Moscow's airborne troops, arrived in the city yesterday and are expected to take up a frontline position in Grbavica, a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo - much to the anger of the Bosnian government, which is sceptical of Russian neutrality. People were not reassured by reports that the Russian advance party drove into Pale, site of the Bosnian Serb headquarters, giving the three-fingered Serbian salute.

Serbs continued to bombard Bosnia's second city, Tuzla, yesterday, wounding at least three people. Five shells slammed into the centre of the mainly Muslim town, which is also besieged by the Serbs. Access is difficult, food scarce and fuel hard to find. UN aid supplies have fallen well short of their target. Danish peace-keeping troops with 11 Leopard tanks are on their way to Tuzla from Croatia's Adriatic port of Split.

Resigned to partition, page 8

Leading article, page 15

Russia draws line, page 16