Serbs mount new strike on Bihac

UN paves way for Nato bombing in Croatia
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The Independent Online
THE United Nations was last night considering authorising a Nato attack on Serb-held Ubdina airport in Croatia as a result of a second air strike into the Bihac area of Bosnia yesterday. Serb jets bombed the Muslim-controlled Bihac enclave in north-western Bosnia in the second such attack in as many days, openly defying the UN.

Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Sacirbey, said the planes bombed and strafed the centre of Cazin, about 10 miles north of Bihac. The target of the attack may have been a Bosnian army ammunition factory in Cazin. Mr Sacirbey said government forces shot down one of the attacking planes, which crashed into a residential part of town. At least 15 people were hurt and the pilot was killed.

According to UN sources the raid was mounted in an interlude during which Nato planes providing air protection for Bihac were refuelling.

Soon after the attack the UN adopted a resolution authorising Nato to follow Serb aircraft from Bosnia to Croatia and if necessary strike Ubdina airport in the Krajina enclave. The Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, has given his consent to Nato action over his country for a period of one week.

British and Russian envoys had said the resolution was not retroactive but pressure for action resulted after yesterday's Serb air strike. The Nato Council was holding an extraordinary meeting in Brussels last night to decide its response.

Two Serb planes from the Udbina airfield dropped a napalm and a fragmentation bomb on Bihac on Friday. That raid was described by a UN spokesman yesterday as a ``villainous act . . . deserving of the strongest international condemnation''. ``This is the first confirmed use of napalm in the war and it represents a clear violation of international conventions which ban the use of such weaponry of mass destruction and terror,'' Paul Risley said. Bosnian Serb forces threatened yesterday to shell hourly the UN ``safe haven'' of Tuzla until a platoon of their men surrounded by a Muslim advance were freed.

Meanwhile, there were signs in Washington yesterday that contingency planning by the United States to help arm the Bosnian Muslims, against strong opposition from its Nato allies, may come to little in practice. Preliminary briefings by Pentagon officials to Congress on the potential cost of the exercise are apparently causing many on Capitol Hill to reassess their position.

In closed-door briefings last week, the Pentagon warned US law-makers that carrying out the policy could cost up to $5bn (pounds 3.2bn) and eventually entail sending US troops to the region. One US source said that American action could also mean launching a ``very heavy air campaign'' against the Serbs. The prospect of ``Americanising'' the Balkan conflict will not be well-received on Capitol Hill.

(Photograph omitted)