Saving Sarajevo: Perils of a week in Bosnia for UN: While leaders of former Yugoslavia discussed peace, troops faced realities on the ground

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The Independent Online
A WEEK that began with ferocious shelling of a United Nations military base in Sarajevo ended yesterday with the death of a Spanish peace-keeper in southwestern Bosnia. As the week progressed, Nato completed plans to provide air cover for UN forces in Bosnia, and the Bosnian government was under pressure to sign a peace plan that would abolish the republic as a unitary state.

In Croatia, tensions rose when Croatian troops reneged on a promise to hand over the Maslenica bridge on the Adriatic coastal highway to UN forces. The Croats demanded that Serbian forces in the area put their heavy weapons in UN depots.

Several armoured vehicles were wrecked last Sunday when 68 artillery rounds slammed into a UN base, occupied by French troops, at Zetra in Sarajevo. In a letter yesterday to the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said: 'Regretfully, we have to inform you that there is a strong suspicion that this attack . . . came by mistake from the Serb side.'

There were no casualties among the 150 troops at the base, a stadium used for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.

The perils of the UN peace- keeping operation were underlined yesterday when at least two shells crashed into the sleeping quarters of Spanish UN troops in the southwestern town of Jablanica. One soldier was killed, and 17 were wounded. The UN did not immediately identify the perpetrators of the attack, but Jablanica is under the control of the Bosnian government, fighting Croatian forces in the region.

Since UN peace-keepers moved into former Yugoslavia 15 months ago, 53 have been killed and 542 wounded. The shelling of the French and Spanish bases provoked warnings from UN commanders that future attacks, from whatever side, would result in sustained retaliation.

This threat was given force by the announcement that Nato warplanes would start providing air cover for UN troops in Bosnia early next week. The idea is not to take the war to the Serbs or Croats, but to support UN humanitarian operations and to protect the six 'safe areas' that the Western powers have promised to maintain for Bosnian Muslims. The US and its allies have also pledged to send an extra 7,500 UN troops to Bosnia to implement the 'safe areas' plan.

However, the West is determined the Bosnian government should not interpret this initiative as a green light to continue the war. Western governments regard it as inconceivable that the old Bosnian state can be restored inside its pre-war borders. As a result, the EC and UN mediators, Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, pressed the Bosnian Muslim delegation at this week's talks in Geneva to accept a settlement based largely on Serbian and Croatian demands.

The mediators presented a plan on Thursday calling for the creation of a 'United Republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina', a formulation that would disguise the reality of partition beneath a facade of successful diplomatic compromise. Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, rejected the proposal yesterday, but diplomats said the pressure on him to yield was unrelenting.