Children of Sarajevo slaughtered by Serbs

Bosnia crisis: Nine more die in besieged city as playground is hit by shell and French turn mortars on hostile gunners

Nine people, five of them children, were killed by Serb shells and snipers in Sarajevo yesterday, the majority by a shell that hit a playground close to the main market. Three children playing in the evening sun and three adults were killed and four others were wounded.

The victims' torn and bloodied bodies were taken to Kosevo hospital, where staff reacted with shock and anger to the deaths, which occurred about 100 metres from the site where a Serb shell killed 68 in February 1994, prompting Nato to ban heavy weapons from the city.

With the weapons regime now defunct, the besiegers of Sarajevo are freer than ever to attack civilian targets, despite the recent Bosnian army offensive around the city. They have also fired repeatedly at UN positions, drawing warning fire yesterday but little retribution.

A boy was shot dead yesterday as he cycled past a French anti-sniper team; in the western suburb of Dobrinja, a 16-year-old boy was killed and four others were wounded by a shell.

A huge explosion sounded in the Old Town last night as the shell landed near the market. "I saw them carry two little girls away and they were ripped apart," said a woman in a building overlooking the play area.

As a relative identified the dead from the playground, all of whom lived in the area, a nurse turned on reporters she had invited in to the hospital. "Get out, get out," she screamed. "You bastards take pictures of this but it doesn't make a fucking difference to anybody in the world except us."

The mother of one Dobrinja victim described what had happened to reporters. Later, a doctor told them the woman's son had died but he could not bring himself to tell her.

Following repeated Serb attacks on UN and civilian cars travelling the treacherous mountain road into Sarajevo, French troops deployed on Mount Igman and armed with heavy mortars fired a large smoke round at a Bosnian Serb gun firing on a UN convoy. It was the first time the troops fired a mortar since their deployment more than two weeks ago.

The bomb landed near the offending gun. It did no damage but was accompanied by a phone call to the local Bosnian Serb barracks warning that unless the firing stopped, the next round would be a regular mortar bomb.

UN positions have been shot at 17 times in the past week, 15 times by the Serbs, but peace-keepers have returned fire only twice. Both instances involved French soldiers at Hotonj, north of Sarajevo, who destroyed a tank. Yesterday's smoke bomb was the first UN use of artillery in Bosnia. Earlier, a convoy of 17 armoured personnel carriers transporting supplies into the city had been hit by rounds fired from the Serb cannon, one of several that target the road.

Carl Bildt, the European peace envoy, who was forced to travel the Igman road to and from Sarajevo on Friday, said his convoy was also attacked. The perilous route, normally travelled only by Bosnians, journalists, some aid agencies and others denied Serb permission to enter Sarajevo, is now in use by the UN to bring in troops and supplies. The Serbs are denying clearance for UN convoys along roads they hold.

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