Fears of hostage-taking sweep central Bosnia

THE murder of British aid worker Paul Goodall and the escape of his companions, David Court and Simon King, have fuelled fears of a wave of Beirut-style hostage-taking and murder in central Bosnia.

The arrests last night of four men indicate that the Bosnian authorities are taking seriously the threat to aid operations posed by the killing. Tony Winton, Overseas Development Administartion chief in Zenica, said: 'The future of the aid operation depends very much on the investigation and the punishment handed out by the Bosnian army police.'

Police chief Ramiz Dugalic mobilised all units to find Goodall's stolen Land Rover, last seen crashing through a Bosnian army road-block and heading for Visoko. How it got through two road-blocks (there was another close to the scene of the crime) is a mystery. General Dzemo Merdan, second-in- command of the Bosnian III Corps, which has its HQ in Zenica, is also anxious to bring what he calls 'unruly elements' under control.

The Bosnian command suggested that the murder was perpetrated by 'Arabs' - Muslim extremists from abroad, or by the Croats in order to discredit the Bosnian army.

In New York the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, has finally given the green light for the use of Nato air power against Serbian forces in Bosnia. But his agenda makes air strikes unlikely before March. His plan was generally approved by the United States, Britain and France, which have sought his authority for defensive air strikes to protect UN peace-keepers if they are attacked by Serbian forces as they try to reopen the airport at Tuzla and replace troops in the Muslim town of Srebrenica.

The secretary-general's timetable calls for a month of UN negotiations with the Serbs to allow the replacement of 156 Canadians by Dutch troops by the end of February. He wants to persuade Bosnia's Muslims to turn over Tuzla airport to UN troops and the Serbs to reopen it for humanitarian flights.

The plan effectively puts off any use of Nato air power until March. Then, if the UN commander on the ground needs air support, he must still get final approval from the secretary- general's special representative in the former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia there is increasing evidence of the Croatian army proper (HV) intervening beside the Bosnian Croat HVO as far north as the main front line between the Croats and the Bosnian army.

On Wednesday, in the HVO headquarters, a number of men wearing HV insignia were seen. They included a section commander who was in charge of perhaps 10 men, so these were not high-ranking military advisers, but ordinary ground soldiers.

UN military sources estimate that in the last month 11,000 to 12,000 HV and HVO have moved into the Prozor area, and 6,000 have left - an increase of 5,000 to 6,000 men, a large number by the standards of this war.