Mortars blast headquarters of UN force

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The Independent Online

Agence France-Presse

Sarajevo - Bosnian Serb forces ignored pleas from the UN to stop their barrage on Sarajevo yesterday, wounding 13 people in mortar attacks, some on the headquarters of the British chief of UN operations in Bosnia.

A Canadian and a Briton were slightly wounded in the first blast which rocked the compound, according to the UN spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Coward, whose own office was struck by shrapnel from the explosion.

A British army officer said that moments after the first blast, the bomb detonated in the trees above his Land-Rover Discovery, "which is now a mess".

Lt-Col Coward added: "Parts of the tree are down. There are shrapnel holes in the roof of the car and pockmarks in the road.

"We got two chunks of shrapnel in the office, one of which has gouged a great hole in the desk."

Windows in the building, a former official residence close to the centre of Sarajevo, were shattered.

Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, the British commander of UN forces in Bosnia, was not in the building at the time.

Two more mortar bombs followed half an hour later.

The Bosnian health ministry said a total of 13 people were injured in the Bosnian capital in yesterday's bombardment and no one died. The ministry's figure did not include the peace-keepers.

Last Thursday, the UN peacekeepers' headquarters in west Sarajevo was hit by two high-explosive shells in what UN officials said appeared to be a co-ordinated attack. There were no casualties but the building sustained considerable damage.

Earlier yesterday, peacekeepers fired their biggest guns for the first time in Bosnia, lobbing two heavy mortar bombs at a Bosnian Serb cannon which attacked a UN convoy on the Mount Igman supply route. There were no UN casualties and neither bomb hit its target.

In recent weeks, the Bosnian Serbs have stepped up their targeting of UN vehicles using what is the only overland route into the city, but the peacekeepers had, until yesterday, responded only with warning smoke mortars.

The incident came the morning after a bloody day in Sarajevo which saw 13 die and scores wounded as separatist Bosnian Serb forces shelled the city throughout the day.

The United Nations Protection Force chief of staff, Dutch General Cees Nicolai, sent a stiff letter of protest to the Bosnian Serb army commander calling on him to order his men to stop attacking the city.

In the letter, sent on Saturday afternoon, he warned General Ratko Mladic that the attacks broke all international agreements on protection of civilians in a war "respected by all professional armies in the world" and are "liable to trial by an international court".

Sarajevo's mayor, meanwhile, said a Bosnian army offensive to ease the Serbs' stranglehold was exacting a terrible price in casualties but it represented his people's only hope. "We will take the risk of fighting for survival if the other option is surrender and survival," Mayor Tarik Kupusovic said. While the UN said the shelling was apparently unconnected with offensive activity by Muslim-led forces, city dwellers were convinced the attacks were revenge for successes by their army somewhere far from the eyes of UN observers.