Sarajevo ablaze after UN makes 'no-fly' proposal

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THE HEART of Sarajevo was ablaze yesterday, amid the heaviest shelling of the Bosnian capital by Serbian forces in weeks. The Holiday Inn Hotel, the base for dozens of foreign journalists, took several direct hits and members of a French television team were wounded.

The renewed assault on the battered Bosnian capital was thought to reflect Serb anger over new United Nations proposals to ban Serbian bomber flights over Bosnian cities.

George Bush called on the UN last week to order the closure of Bosnia's airspace, a move intended to protect mainly Muslim civilian populations in besieged Jajce, Bihac and Brcko, from Serbian air attacks. The US call appeared to mean the end of more than a month of prevarication at the UN over the proposals.

'The bombing of defenceless population centres has actually increased (since the London conference),' Mr Bush said in a written statement to the Secretary General. He called for a strategy of 'reducing the violence and making the aggressors pay' in Bosnia.

Bosnia's Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said yesterday his rebels were willing to suspend military flights over Bosnia if Muslim-led government forces agreed to make no new offensives on the ground. Mr Karadzic had threatened to withdraw from an international peace conference if the UN imposed a military 'no-fly zone' over Bosnia.

In what may be the first hesitant step by the US towards military involvement in Bosnia, Mr Bush announced that the US was 'ready to participate in enforcement measures' if requested by the UN. Plans to close the airspace have been on and off the UN agenda for several weeks. The proposals were held up by Security Council wrangles over how a ban could be enforced without provoking Serb attacks against UN convoys.

The decision to press on with a ban marks international desperation over how to stave off a humanitarian catastrophe in Bosnia with winter approaching. A UN health official yesterday warned that mass starvation faced Sarajevo's 400,000 people if daily relief flights were not maintained. 'Unless 240 tons of food go into Sarajevo each day, children will start to die of starvation in about four weeks time, and adults four weeks later,' said Sir Donald Acheson. 'There is no time for delay. The time bomb is ticking.' Flights resumed at the week-end after a month's break because an Italian aircraft was shot down.