UN troops join Serbs on mountain: Mladic holds on to Mt Igman as French platoons on Mt Bjelasnica are hindered by protests and weather

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serbs lowered the Serbian flag on a mountain peak above Sarajevo yesterday, but showed no sign of honouring a deal with United Nations forces to leave Mount Igman, which directly overlooks the city.

'The Serb flag is off the top of Mt Bjelasnica,' announced the UN spokesman in Sarajevo, Barry Frewer. He said 150 French UN troops in three reconnaissance platoons had reached the plateau.

But none of the platoons reached its goal. One platoon could go no further on account of mines. A second was stopped in its tracks by an angry demonstration of Serbian women - a tried and trusted tactic of the Serbs.

Bosnian Serb tanks and artillery remained on the misty slopes of Mt Igman, the more strategic of the two peaks which Serbian forces grabbed in their offensive against Sarajevo on 30 July. An eyewitness said houses were burning on the hillsides. Mt Bjelasnica lies behind Bosnian Serb lines and is not seen as militarily important.

The Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, and the UN force commander in Bosnia, Gen Francis Briquemont, reached what was described as a breakthough deal on Serbian withdrawal from the two peaks at the weekend.

The pace of events around Sarajevo has been dictated by political pressures from Geneva to get Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, back to the negotiating table. Mr Izetbegovic has made Serbian withdrawal from Mt Igman the sine qua non for his attendance. The results of the weekend meeting were duly relayed on a hotline to Geneva, to put pressure on Mr Izetbegovic to resume talks with Lord Owen.

The announced agreement looks strongly like a deal struck between the UN and the Serbs to stave off US air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo. For different reasons, the UN and the Bosnian Serbs strongly oppose armed intervention. The Serbs want to maintain their 16- month stranglehold on the Bosnian capital. The UN in Sarajevo fear Serbs will react to air strikes by retaliating against UN peace-keepers.

By agreeing to intermingle Serbs and French UN peace-keepers on Mt Igman, the UN has made it almost impossible for Nato jets to target Serbian positions around Sarajevo. More convincingly than before, the UN will now be able to claim that air strikes pose a direct danger to their troops.

Some UN soldiers on the ground believe Gen Briquemont was gulled by the Bosnian Serbs. They fear that, as in neighbouring Croatia, the UN will end up policing Serbian territorial gains for free. 'Gen Briquemont wants us to do the Serbs' work for them,' was the angry reaction of one French peace-keeper. 'The UN troops deployed here will have to be taken from other places.'

The principal worry of the Bosnian Muslim forces is that a deal for the UN to take control of Mt Igman will sever the last supply line for weapons and food that runs between Sarajevo and Muslim-held territory to the south-west. Without this vital trail, the weakening defences of the Bosnian capital could collapse within weeks for lack of arms. The Muslim- led Bosnian army fears that the Serbs will now redeploy the troops they used to take Mt Igman to attack the last piece of high ground which the Muslims hold round Sarajevo at Zuc hill, north of the city.

ZAGREB - The Croatian army command said Serbian rebels had bombarded an economically vital road bridge on its Adriatic coast yesterday for the fourth time in a week, Reuter reports.

At least 23 rounds were fired at the Maslenica pontoon bridge between mid-morning and mid-afternoon as workers started repair work. The bridge partially sank after the first attack on 1 August. After three hours of calm, random shelling resumed in the afternoon, a Croatian military spokesman said by telephone from Zadar port. No casualties were reported. Maslenica's span links north and south Croatia and is viewed as a flashpoint that could kindle renewed war between the Croatian army and Serbs in the breakaway Krajina enclave. Krajina Serbs are bent on preventing the Croatians using the bridge as long as they refuse to abide by an agreement to turn it over to UN supervision.

(Photograph omitted)

Leading article, letters, page 15

Sarajevo could be saved, page 17

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