British troops get taste of task ahead

Click to follow
A BRITISH soldier was hit by a bullet yesterday in Ahinici, five miles east of Vitez, where the British Army discovered massacred Muslim civilians on 16 April. His body armour absorbed the impact and, although he was bruised and bleeding, the bullet did not penetrate.

The incident happened as British troops yesterday engaged in a small- scale version of the task which will face 60-70,000 UN troops if the ceasefire signed by the Bosnian Serbs yesterday holds. The British forces were out and about checking whether the Croats and Muslims had withdrawn to lines agreed in an EC-brokered ceasefire on 28 April.

The British forces took Croat and Muslim generals around the positions where they agreed ceasefire lines. British officers here said the Bosnians had not entirely withdrawn as agreed but the number of troops was reducing. The Bosnian army, predominantly but far from exclusively Muslim - there was a Serb fighting for them yesterday - had suffered dreadful atrocities and it took some time for them to agree to toe the line.

Yesterday's patrols could constitute a dress rehearsal for the vastly more complex negotiations and monitoring which will be needed if the ceasefire signed by the Serbs holds, though military men are sceptical. 'I've seen ceasefires signed every week' was the general view in Vitez last night.

However Colonel Bob Stewart, commanding officer of the Cheshire Regiment in Bosnia told ITN last night that he welcomed the agreement. 'It gives us the moral authority to go round and tell everyone: 'It's all over - please stop now.' '

The Muslim/Croat ceasefire seems to be holding, apart from personal vendettas and small skirmishes. Artillery, mortar and multiple rocket-launcher fire has stopped, indicating that the senior commanders on both sides are honouring the agreement.

However, small arms fire continues - we could hear heavy machine-gun fire as we arrived in Vitez last night. Although reportedly short of arms, the Muslims have used considerable ingenuity in constructing multi-barrelled mortars. An old tractor factory is turning them out.

Yesterday the situation around the British Army in central Bosnia was 'quiet with just a few shootings'. A number of booby traps had been found attached to trip wires at a fuel installation nearby, clearly intended to discourage nocturnal prowlers.

The soldier hit by a sniper's bullet, Trooper Lee James, was holding open the door of a Spartan armoured personnel carrier for other troops when he was struck on the shoulder blade.

Today a headstone will be unveiled in Gornji Vakuf to Lance Corporal Wayne Edwards, the first British soldier to die in the Bosnian operation.

Yesterday an uneasy truce also reigned between the UN forces and the local Bosnian Croat command, the HVO. Last week a Danish UN soldier shot dead an HVO member after rounds were fired over a UN convoy.