Nato fires off words over Croat 'no-fly' violations

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BRUSSELS (AFP) - Nato expressed alarm yesterday at Croatian arms air-drops in the UN-declared 'no-fly' zone over Bosnia. It said it was working on a co-ordinated response but did not give any pledges of concrete action.

A Nato spokesman said helicopters were parachuting arms to Croatian troops in central Bosnia.

On Thursday, General Jeremy Boorda, an American and commander of Nato's Operation Deny Flight charged with enforcing the no-fly zone, said the alliance was poised to clamp down on the Bosnian arms-drops: Nato might deploy helicopters in the Vitez region, where the air-drops have been occurring over the past two weeks to support Croatian forces in an upsurge of fighting with the mainly Muslim Bosnian army.

Speaking to journalists in Naples, General Boorda said Nato and UN commanders had already met to formulate a response to the illicit air-drops, and that the alliance could respond 'very quickly'.

Nato planes from the US, France, Britain, the Netherlands and Turkey have been trying to enforce the no-fly zone since April. The air exclusion zone was established by a UN resolution passed in October 1992.

Also in central Bosnia, Royal Engineers were last night checking the route to the British United Nations base at Vitez, which has been cut off for five days since the Bosnian Croats launched a big operation around and east of Gornji Vakuf and warned they would fire on anything approaching their front line.

The Engineers moved up to check the route after a day of negotiations with local Croatian commanders. The army's supply convoys are expected to resume today.

In New York, a UN official said the Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had agreed to a resumption of aid convoys to central Bosnia suspended since 26 October. The convoys were halted after the killing of a Danish aid driver which investigators blamed on troops of Bosnia's Muslim-led army.

Alvaro de Soto, a political adviser to the UN chief, said that Mr Boutros-Ghali had accepted recommendations by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, and the UN special representative for the former Yugoslavia, Thorvald Stoltenberg.

Such a decision had been expected following the agreement by the three warring parties in Geneva on Thursday guaranteeing UN aid convoys unhindered passage across Bosnia this winter.

Asked when the convoys would start again, Mr de Soto said: 'That depends on circumstances on the ground. I understand that there is some fighting on at least two of the three roads where normally this assistance would be delivered. But subject to that, it can resume immediately.'