Snipers lie low as UN forces target hideouts

THE SNIPERS who lurk in the bullet-scarred tower blocks on the Serb-held bank of the Miljacka river running through Sarajevo apparently spent their Sunday afternoon at rest. Mindful perhaps of the UN anti-sniping teams surveying the towers through telescopic rifle sights, or just satisfied with the fruits of their labours - the suspension of Sarajevo's tram services - the marksmen kept quiet.

General Sir Michael Rose, the UN force commander in Bosnia who helped to broker a deal ending the shelling of Sarajevo in February, is set on ending the sniping. 'It's a very high priority indeed,' he said yesterday, on a visit to the French and Ukrainians parked along Sniper's Alley. 'I'm encouraged by the work that's been put into it and the fact that there's been no sniping so far today.'

A shaven-headed French soldier peered down the sights of his anti- sniping rifle at the tower blocks across the river as his commander explained the situation to General Rose. 'The problem is that people are living in the towers,' said Lieutenant Michel Charette. 'So we don't know if the figure we see is a civilian or a sniper. But if we are not 100 per cent sure, we don't shoot - there is no risk of making a mistake.' He added: 'If it's a sniper we shoot to kill.'

On Saturday afternoon, another French team fired four rounds from a 20mm gun mounted on their armoured personnel carrier at a suspected sniper; two found their mark. Although the peace- keepers could not confirm the result of their action, they estimated the sniper's chances of survival at less than 10 per cent.

Russian UN peace-keepers are planning foot patrols on the Serbian side of the line to search flats - although their mission got off to a bad start this weekend when Bosnian soldiers, who suspect Russia of partiality, dropped seven hand-grenades on to a Russian armoured car parked on the government side in Grbavica with the aim of liaising between anti-sniping teams on both sides of the front line. No one was hurt.

After several months of relative peace in the city, life is slipping back towards the bad old days. Peter Kessler, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, warned that food stocks were dangerously low because the Bosnian Serbs have closed the only road into the city and the airport is closed to aid flights. In a resurgence of 'ethnic cleansing' in north Bosnia last week, Serbs in Bijeljina stripped 64 Muslims of their possessions and expelled them into government-held territory. In three weeks 300 Muslims have been forced from the town.