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Jets launch new attack on Serb 'capital'

Nato planes yesterday again attacked the Bosnian Serb ammunition depot at Jahorinski Potok, east of the Bosnian Serb "capital" at Pale. Spanish and US planes again dropped the bombs.The RAF provided fighter cover. The Nato strike force was double the size of Thursday's.

Sources at Nato's headquarters in Naples said that the attacks would be the last for some time and that a cooling-off period was now necessary.

The ammunition dump had been selected because it was easily identifiable and was well away from civilian buildings, they said.

Yesterday's attack destroyed six of the remaining eight bunkers in the large ammunition storage complex after two were destroyed on Thursday.

Nato sources were guarded about the effect the strikes might have on the Bosnian Serb war effort. They said that the desire to avoid killing civilians and damaging property was as important as cutting the sinews of the war.

In Thursday's attack, one of the bunkers erupted in a huge explosion, suggesting that it was full of ammunition. But the other bunker appeared to be empty. Yesterday there were several secondary explosions.

It is unlikely the destruction of the ammunition dump will be a significant blow to the Bosnian Serb war effort. Knowing the threat posed by the Nato jets which regularly roar overhead, the Serbs have dispersed ammunition to a number of sites and can also manufacture it.

Although the Nato air forces can drop laser guided bombs, about 20 per cent of those fail to lock on to the laser reflections from the target. It is not possible in peace-keeping to exploit the greater accuracy of the laser-guided bombs and the rules relating to "dumb bombs" have to be followed. The targets had to be at least 300m from any civilian buildings. On Thursday, two RAF Jaguars with Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator pods arrived at Gioia del Colle in southern Italy.

One senior UN officer yesterday said that the Nato air operation over Bosnia had been vital to the UN mission on the ground. He said that without the Nato planes the UN operation would probably already have been terminated. He said that the deterrent effect of the strikes had made it possible to deploy UN troops to remote areas and deliver aid.

The Nato air patrols had been particularly valuable in policing the Sarajevo heavy-weapons exclusion zone, violation of which had led to the recent air strikes.

If the Bosnian Serbs react violently, Nato and the UN can strike plenty of other targets, including other ammunition dumps, communications and command-centres.

But anything that seriously damages the Bosnian Serb war effort is likely to result in all-out war and the end of the UN's mission.

Although the Muslim-led Bosnian Government has sometimes publicly demanded the withdrawal of the UN, saying that it would rather be allowed to fight its own war, privately most Bosnian citizens want the UN to stay.

One leading Bosnian Muslim commander in the isolated Srebrenica enclave of eastern Bosnia, Nasir Oric, recently told a UN commander "if you lift the arms embargo, we die. Sixty thousand of us [the population of the enclave] will die".