SARAJEVO (Reuter) - United Nations military officers yesterday dismissed as propaganda Muslim reports that Bosnian Serbs had launched a chemical weapons attack on the town of Gorazde.
The Bosnian Vice-President, Ejup Ganic, on a visit to Turkey, said he had received reports that Serbian forces used chemicals in their latest onslaught on the Muslim enclave. 'From my telephone conversations and from amateur radiomen, I have learnt that unfortunately the Serbs have used chemical weapons against Gorazde,' he was quoted as saying in Istanbul.
UN officers said what the Muslims described as chemical weapons were 120mm smoke mortars, intended to create a pall of smoke on the battlefield to obscure the enemy's vision and sow confusion. The mortars emit sulphurous gas, similar to tear-gas. Anyone standing near the explosion can suffer burns. But it is not meant to kill and the UN Protection Force knows of no cases of serious injury from smoke mortars in Gorazde.
A UN spokesman said smoke mortars were not chemical weapons, were not banned under the Geneva Convention and were in the arsenals of most armies in the world.
In the town of Tarcin, 25km (15 miles) south-west of Sarajevo, hundreds of angry Muslims were holding Serbian prisoners of war hostage to protest at the Serbian onslaught on Gorazde, police said yesterday.
Bosnian police officials in Tarcin, said a crowd of about 600 Muslim civilians and refugees from nearby Gorazde, some armed, had overrun a jail holding 250 Serbian prisoners of war. They had overpowered guards at the Tarcin jail and threatened to kill inmates unless their demands were met.
The Muslims wanted the Serbs, whose forces have reached the outskirts of Gorazde, to pull back from the enclave. They also wanted the UN military commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, to visit Gorazde. Local police and army officials were seeking a negotiated end to the stand-off.
General Rose had intended to visit Gorazde last week, but was prevented from doing so by the Serbs, who have been besieging the enclave for the past 18 months.