UN backs off Bosnia `safe areas'

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The Independent Online
A child was killed and at least four people wounded by shelling in Sarajevo yesterday as the Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, accused the UN and Nato of abandoning the "no fly zone" over Bosnia, the heavy-weapons exclusion zone around the city and the "safe areas".

He said Carl Bildt, the European peace envoy, was planning to visit Sarajevo today with the aim of "establishing facts", at a time when the UN considers the Bosnian offensive around Sarajevo to be proceeding fairly well.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Coward said that the UN believed Muslim-led government forces had made gains around Sarajevo close to Serb supply roads, and seemed to be holding onto the new ground, despite earlier reports to the contrary.

Belmina Burek, aged 2, was playing outside a tall apartment block when a shell landed close to the entrance, killing her and wounding several others. Water supplies to the basement had just been switched on, and several people were queueing to collect it when the shell landed.

Such scenes have become familiar in the past month. Six people were killed and 15 wounded by a shell on Wednesday night as they walked along a main street in Dobrinja, western Sarajevo, 50m from the water pump where a mortar bomb killed seven and wounded 12 on Sunday.

"Their planes fly freely and we are denied the means to defend ourselves," Mr Silajdzic said, two days after the UN denied a Nato request to bomb a Serb-held airport from which two Serb planes had taken off on Monday.

"Obviously the exclusion zone is not working, the safe zones are not working, and the no-fly zone is not working." Western military sources pointed out that Nato's ability to act swiftly when the zone is violated has been compromised.

The UN said it had no powers to call in air strikes in defence of the no-fly zone. A Nato spokesman responded that the alliance would not seek such a strike. The explanation for Nato's request, therefore, might be that the Alliance sought to deter air attacks against "safe areas", a Western official said, adding that the Serbs were becoming bolder in their use of planes.

"The question is whether it is more prudent to deal with the situation now by deterring attacks against `safe areas'," he said, "or by waiting until they successfully attacked from the air and perhaps killed people, and then deciding what to do."

A UN official noted: "There is no enthusiasm among the international community to enforce anything there, and since the Security Council resolutions allow us to go either way - towards deterrence through force or deterrence through sheer presence, the troop-contributing nations prefer the latter option".

The heavy-weapons exclusion zone, created by Nato in February 1994, has disappeared, as the UN acknowledges. "The Nato air strikes failed to re- establish the integrity of the total exclusion zone and led to its collapse," Alex Ivanko, a spokesman, said.

Given the collapse of much of the UN's mandate, the Bosnian Serbs' refusal to accept the international peace plan and the government's determination to continue attacks around Sarajevo, Mr Bildt will have his work cut out.