Sniper freed in law and order vacuum

Sarajevo - A sniper fires at Nato's headquarters in Ilidza, the Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo under the nominal control of the Bosnian government, writes Emma Daly. Hours later, Nato troops, accompanied by Bosnian Serb police, visit the apartment identified by a Nato sentry as the firing point, and find a man armed with a sniper rifle, two assault rifles and a grenade.

Nato officials report the successful arrest of the suspected sniper on Saturday morning. They do not report his immediate release by the Ilidza police, who have a hard-earned reputation as a corrupt and lawless force with no liking for the Nato troops responsible for enforcing their defeat at Dayton.

The International Police Task Force is present at the arrest - or so Nato says. The Task Force spokesman has no knowledge of the incident, and is unable to extract any details from the boys in UN blue. Nato responds to the release of the man thought to have fired at its troops with glorious sang-froid - and only when asked about it.

"Presumably [the Ilidza police] didn't consider there were grounds on which to arrest him," Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Rayner, a Nato spokesman, told the Independent. "They are the police and we are not." Military security - which might encompass sniping at Nato troops - is the responsibility of the Implementation Force (I-For). Policing is left to the civilian authorities, assisted by the UN police task force, which is undermanned, unarmed and, so far, hopelessly inefficient.

Legally, the Muslim-led Bosnian government is in charge of Ilidza; in reality, Serb police patrol the streets and will continue to do so for several weeks. The civilian international mission has said that it expects the phased hand-over of Ilidza to Bosnian police to start soon. "Notional time lines have now been produced and are yet to be agreed by all parties, but work is in progress," an official said.

The sniper incident illustrates the absolute lack of proper policing in Ilidza and in the other Serb suburbs changing hands, and the need for an effective authority. "There is no reliable police force in the Serb neighbourhoods," said a foreign official with years of experience in the area. "They have always been totally unreliable as a form of protection for anybody, minorities and Serbs alike. The UN police is a total shambles, and I-For is desperately trying to narrow down its responsibilities to the physical separation of the two sides."

The official acknowledged the problem for any I-For troops who identify a sniper: "They can turn him over to the Bosnian government side, thus incurring the fury of the Bosnian Serbs, give him to the Bosnian Serbs, who release him, or shoot him."