UN blames Muslims for Sarajevo battle

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The Independent Online
THE WORST fighting in seven months in Sarajevo eased yesterday after the commander of United Nations troops in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, accused the Bosnian government of starting the battle and threatened Muslim forces with air strikes unless they broke off the engagement.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, agreed to stop the attacks on a Serb-held ridge, northeast of the city, following a meeting with General Rose and the Bosnian army chief, General Rasim Delic.

The fighting started on Sunday when government troops attacked Serb-held positions, prompting an exchange of fire, and, more significantly, artillery shells from big guns which are banned from the Sarajevo area by the UN. General Rose accused the mainly Muslim government of launching the attack as a ploy to provoke the Serbs into retaliating with heavy weapons, forcing Nato to respond with air attacks against the Serbs.

''It is incomprehensible to the civilised mind that anyone could so endanger the city's civilians for a local tactical or political objective. I hope never to see another woman running with a child in her arms on the streets of Sarajevo thinking she's about to die,' said General Rose. When asked what he had told the Bosnian government, General Rose said: 'I've told (the government) 'If you don't stop it immediately, we'll be using air power against you.' We've already been in consultation with Nato on the targets.'

The Bosnian attack appeared to be aimed at breaking the Serbs' grip on the city's gas and electricity supplies, which has left Sarajevo without heat and water for nearly a week. The government is furious about an upsurge in Serbian sniper attacks on Sarajevo and an intensified campaign of forced expulsions which has driven thousands of Muslims from their homes in northern Bosnia recently. General Rose's threat to the Muslims - while the UN has done little more than condemn the Serbs for the evictions of at least 1,000 Muslims across confrontation lines on Sunday - raises questions over the UN's handling of the conflict.

Critics of General Rose's ultimatum pointed out that although he wasted no time in getting tough with the Bosnian government, he has avoided doing the same with the Bosnian Serbs.

On Sunday, Bosnian Serbs took hostage a group of French UN soldiers and mined the area around a weapons collection point that peace-keepers were guarding. The mines were removed yesterday and the French allowed to go free.

The government accuses the UN of looking on impassively while the Bosnian Serbs 'ethnically cleansed' Muslims and Croats from huge areas of Bosnia. The Security Council has condemned the expulsions, which have been accompanied by robbery, rape and murder.

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