No easy task to arm Muslims: Bosnian Muslims could make best use of simple heavy weapons, but what they really need is ammunition

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE CALL to arm the Bosnian Muslims raises two questions. How could more arms reach the Muslims hemmed in by the Croats and Serbs and isolated from the outside world? And to what extent are the Muslims trained and able to make use of them?

Yesterday's reports of intense fighting between Muslims and Croats around Vitez, with both sides using multiple-rocket launchers, cast doubt on the view that the Muslims lack heavy weapons. They have small arms - automatic rifles and machine guns - though they are short of ammunition, and more supplies of ammunition would be the most welcome commodity. Another key area is that of simple but potent heavy weapons: artillery, mortars and hand-held rocket launchers.

The Serbs' greatest advantage is in 'indirect fire' weapons - those that can hit a target they cannot see directly, using data computed from a map. The Muslims, like the Croats and Serbs, have a number of former Yugoslav army officers in their ranks. Anyone able to read a map and use a compass should be able to direct artillery fire.

The Muslims are unlikely to be able to exploit more sophisticated methods of seeking targets: artillery- and mortar-locating radars, for example. The value of such devices is well known: the Ukrainian UN troops were the first to deploy a mortar-locating radar, and the Serbs promptly destroyed it.

The fighting in Bosnia has also seen much use of heavy direct-fire weapons - anti-aircraft guns fired at surface targets, tank guns and relatively short-range missiles. The range of direct-fire weapons is limited by what can be seen: in the hilly, misty, rainy mountains of Bosnia, that is not a very great distance. A few recoilless guns and hand-held anti-tank missiles with a range of 1,000 metres or so fit the bill.

Although few tanks and armoured vehicles are being used in the conflict, hand-held anti-tank weapons are extremely useful against all kinds of targets - especially houses and bunkers. They are 'user-friendly' and cause spectacular explosions at greater range.

The Muslims in Srebrenica are encircled by Serbs; those in central Bosnia pinned between Serbs and Croats. Even if the arms embargo were lifted, deliberate steps would have to be taken to get arms to the Muslims, for example, by dropping them from aircraft. If the drops were as accurate as those of food, half the arms would go to the Serbs anyway.

(Photograph omitted)