18 fighters killed by British

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BRITISH UN troops in Bosnia have shot dead an estimated 18 soldiers of the local warring factions - Croats and Muslims - since 11 May, it emerged on Thursday night.

Local forces have fired on the British 46 times since then. The rules of engagement permit the troops to fire in self-defence.

Recently the UN spokeswoman, Shannon Boyd, confirmed that the British had killed Croats on a number of occasions but this is the first time a figure has been mentioned.

The British are on the 'fault line' between the Muslim-led Bosnian Army (BiH) and the Bosnian Croats (HVO), but seldom cross into Serb- held areas.

The commander of the Britsh battalion group in Vitez, Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Duncan, said yesterday morning that his troops had found four bodies. The other 14 in the period since his battalion group of the Prince of Wales's Own regiment of Yorkshire took over from the Cheshire regiment were a 'guesstimate'.

Lt Col Duncan said it was not possible to confirm the other deaths as it was usually impossible to reach the 'firing point' - where the local snipers were shooting from - without putting his troops in further danger. Often the firing point was 300 to 400 metres away, and often there were minefields in between.

Local forces usually remove bodies if they can because the local warring factions mutilate them and body exchanges are protracted and unpleasant affairs.

However, British UN troops can usually tell if they have hit a sniper. Sometimes they see a sniper fall, sometimes he stops firing, and they are equipped with an extremely accurate chain-gun mounted on a stable platform - the 30-ton Warrior infantry fighting vehicle.

Sources said the figure of 18 did not appear in any document, but was known at the Vitez headquarters.

The occasional killing of local militiamen has not seriously affected the popularity of the British UN troops. On at least one occasion recently, a local Croat militiaman who attacked a British patrol was shot dead and the local Croat commander, who had agreed to the British troops using the road, agreed with their action.