Nato anger at Serbs as shots fired

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The Independent Online
Sarajevo (Reuter) - Nato issued a stern warning to Bosnian Serb leaders yesterday after a British Army patrol was forced to fire into the air to disperse a hostile crowd in Serb territory.

"Yesterday the soldiers chose to fire a warning shot. The next time the consequences could be fatal," US Admiral Joseph Lopez, commander of the Nato-led peace force (I-For) in Bosnia, said. "Our troops will do what is necessary ... if they are required to protect the lives of other I-For troops."

A British patrol was escorting two Serb police armoured vehicles in the North-west town of Banja Luka on Wednesday when they discovered unauthorised vehicles and weapons in the convoy, including an anti-aircraft gun and a rocket launcher, Nato spokesmen said.

As the 10-member patrol confiscated the weapons and vehicles, an angry crowd of some 200 civilians surrounded the British soldiers, said Nato spokesman Major Brett Boudreau. When civilians tried to overturn one of the patrol's Land-Rovers, the senior soldier, a sergeant, fired a warning shot into the air, dispersing the crowd, he said.

The British patrol drove on but when they stopped to regroup they were surrounded again by a mob and Serb police cars. To defuse the tension the confiscated weapons were taken by the British to a Bosnian Serb army barracks. Later they were taken to the I-For base on the outskirts of Banja Luka.

Admiral Lopez said the incident showed "dangerous and irresponsible behaviour" by Bosnian Serb police, and praised the British patrol for exercising restraint.