British UN troops put on high alert: Bosnian Serbs defy Gorazde ultimatum - Nordic soldiers taken hostage - Rift opens between Washington and Moscow

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The Independent Online
FOR THE second time in two days US warplanes struck Bosnian Serb positions around the besieged Gorazde pocket under operation 'Blue Sword', which has the declared aim of protecting UN personnel who have come under Serbian fire.

As expected, Nato's action at the UN's request heightened tension between the Bosnian Serbs and the UN. Serbian radio has been reporting that the UN attacked civilian targets. Last night the Bosnian Serbs had effectively taken hostage 15 Swedish and Norwegian troops from the Nordic battalion based in Sarajevo, at the checkpoint where they were trying to re-enter Serb- held territory east of Kiseljak.

British UN troops in Bugojno, Vitez and Maglaj went on to a high state of alert when the second air attack went in, and British troops in Maglaj, who are nearest Bosnian Serb-held areas, were subject to increased Serbian sniper fire.

Following Sunday afternoon's attack on a Bosnian Serb artillery command post and tanks by two US F-16C aircraft, the Serbian bombardment of Gorazde continued. At 11.45am local time yesterday, aircraft made passes over the Serbian forces, but their bombardment continued. At 12.25pm the UN issued an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serb commander, Geneneral Ratko Mladic, warning him to stop the bombardment.

From 12.36pm to 1pm, aircraft made warning passes again, this time dropping flares. At 1.14pm a UN military observer reported that eight rounds a minute from mortars, artillery and tanks were falling in Gorazde itself, as the Serbs continued their pressure from the south-east. At 2.19pm two US F-18 jets launched three bombs and strafed targets. Early reports indicated they had destroyed at least three Bosnian Serb armoured personnel carriers and a truck.

All relief flights into Sarajevo have been cancelled in case the Serbs fire at them. Up to 6pm yesterday the Serbs continued to impose restrictions on movement into their territory, closing the crossings from central Bosnia at Turbe in the west and into Sarajevo in the east. This has cut the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' deliveries in the area by 50 per cent. UN troops and journalists attempting to get into Sarajevo were met by Serbian guards who said they had heard on Serbian radio that the UN attack had killed women and children.

The 15 Nordic battalion troops found their way barred by mines and then mines were placed behind them, so they were preparing to spend a second night at the checkpoint. Their commander said they were being held hostage.

British troops in their bases at Bugojno and Vitez went to a state of 'amber alert' on Sunday afternoon and again yesterday in case of Serbian reprisals. This meant donning body armour and helmets and restricting movements. 'Red alert' would mean heading into bomb- proof shelters if there were signs of an imminent attack.

Since the British UN troops arrived in Maglaj, where they are within 750m (750 yards) of Bosnian Serb positions, they have been under sporadic sniper fire, which increased yesterday.

The closure of routes through Serbian territory has again heightened the importance on the mountain road into central Bosnia, which has been closed for two days. Yesterday huge convoys, including one of 180 vehicles, were trapped in huge traffic jams made worse by the spring thaw, which made the road treacherous and washed away parts of the surface. The Royal Engineers, troops of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment and military police succeeded in untangling the traffic, and the road is expected to be back to normal today.

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