RAF Tornados force down Croatian helicopter over Bosnia: Air Force enforces no-fly zone

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The Independent Online
RAF Tornado F3 fighters forced down a Croat helicopter which violated the UN no-fly zone over Bosnia on Thursday afternoon, it emerged yesterday, but only after it had delivered an estimated 20,000 rounds of ammunition to the Bosnian Croat army (HVO).

A local commander of the Bosnian army (BiH) saw the two Tornados shadowing the Croat helicopter, thought they were escorting it, and sent a strong complaint to the UN. 'We put him right,' an officer said.

The ammunition could be used in an HVO offensive in this area, where the 900-strong British battalion group is based, although sources here are sceptical of rumours that an attack will be launched soon.

The Mi-8 Hip helicopter was spotted flying low over Vitez, instantly recognisable because it was not painted white. 'Have the Ukrainians got any air support here?' someone asked. They had not, so it was clearly a violation of the no-fly zone imposed by the UN. On 31 March, the UN Security Council extended the no-fly zone to all fixed wing aircraft and helicopters over the republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina.

Aircraft from Nato countries plus Nato airborne warning and control aircraft (Awacs) are enforcing the ban. The two aircraft from 11 Squadron were based at Gioia del Colle in Italy. Britain is contributing six Tornados to the Nato force imposing the no-fly zone. Nato has requested two more Tornados from Britain which will deploy shortly.

The Mi-8 Hip is a general purpose helicopter with command and freight variants. The Croat Hip flew from Split, ostensibly on a casualty evacuation mission, but the Tornados found it 'failed to conform' with its stated purpose and forced it down near Novi Travnik. Sources said it was unclear whether the Hip belonged to the Bosnian Croat HVO or the Croatian army. It was in violation of the no-fly zone and had apparently delivered large quantities of ammunition.

The situation in the valley including Vitez and Travnik is tense, with some sort of clash between Croats and Muslims expected any time. Elements of the BiH 7th Brigade have been reported moving south from the Muslim stronghold of Zenica.

The Brcko area was the scene of intense fighting on Thursday which killed six Muslim soldiers and wounded 17, Sarajevo radio said. It described the Serbian shelling as the heaviest since the war began 13 months ago.

Commander Barry Frewer, the UN spokesman, described the attack as an extremely serious violation of a ceasefire agreement for the whole of Bosnia reached by Muslim and Serbian commanders. Brcko commands an important supply corridor linking Serbian territories in east and west Bosnia. Sporadic shooting was also reported from the city of Mostar.

ZAGREB - Germany's Foreign Minister, Klaus Kinkel, warned President Franjo Tudjman yesterday to rein in Croat forces attacking Muslims in south-west Bosnia or risk undermining Western support for his country, Reuter reports.

Mr Kinkel said the UN was about to release a report with evidence of direct Croatian involvement in fighting between the ex-civil war allies in Bosnia, and urged Zagreb to reaffirm its commitment to a just peace there.

Mr Kinkel met Mr Tudjman on behalf of the EC after it threatened Croatia - which seeks EC membership - with punitive action unless Bosnian Croat aggression ceased. Zagreb has denied responsibility.