UN army chief has doubts on air strikes

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The Independent Online
THE commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Francis Briquemont, yesterday said he did not think Sarajevo was about to fall, despite the Serbian seizure of the last heights overlooking the city.

He warned that air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs surrounding Sarajevo could complicate the situation on the ground and invited supporters of the idea to take a hard look at his maps. These show the Bosnian Serb army very close to Sarajevo, which is completely hemmed-in, and overlooking the airport runway. If it advances further, there is a risk that air attacks could damage the city itself - and its vital airport. But if the Serbian offer to withdraw from their latest gains is genuine they will be unnecessary.

The Serbs are playing a complex game of cat and mouse. Although they surround the city, they are today expected to admit the weekly UN aid convoy from Kiseljak, which carries enough aid to augment the 160-170 tons a day brought in by air and attain the minimum level needed to sustain Sarajevo. They let the aid through, in part, because there are also Serbs in the city dependent on it. Yesterday the UN High Commissioner for Refugees even hoped to resume aid convoys to Sarajevo from Belgrade.

The Bosnian Serbs have captured two mountains, Bjelasnica and Igman, south-west of the city, removing a Muslim salient south of Sarajevo that permitted military supplies to pass up a mountain road into the city.

Yesterday the Bosnian Serb army chief, Gen Ratko Mladic, moved down from the positions on Mount Igman to Sarajevo airfield for talks with Gen Briquemont and the Bosnian army commander, Gen Rasim Delic. But no agreement was reached on the handover of the strategic heights around the city and talks were postponed until tomorrow.

If the talks fail, the UN could request Nato air strikes against the Serbian positions on the heights. While the UN troops in the front line in this four-sided war have reservations, even military commentators are making public demands for intervention.

In an unusual departure, the editorial of the latest British Army Review - the official in-house journal of the army - says: 'The immediate danger of the Bosnian example is that it supports a view of the UN as an inadequate instrument for peace-making in the face of determined self-interest, but a more insidious hazard is that while individual and distant wars may not directly constitute threats to the UK, each occurrence contributes to a progressive breaking down of the habit of peace.'