UN guns pound Serb mortars into silence

CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Defence Correspondent

The UN Rapid Reaction Force in Bosnia opened fire with its new heavy artillery for the first time on Tuesday night, hitting Bosnian Serb mortar positions north-east of Sarajevo after the Serbs had fired on a UN position manned by Egyptian troops for the second time.

Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, the British commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, now has the authority to authorise artillery strikes without reference to the UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi.

In the meantime, new efforts were announced to avoid an all-out conflict between Serb and Croat forces in southern Bosnia. The two sides have agreed to meet for talks to avert a threatened Croatian offensive against Trebinje, from where the Serbs have been shelling the ancient city of Dubrovnik. The major of Trebinje, Bozidar Vucurevic, said that a group of European observers had been acting as mediators .

Six high explosive shells, each weighing 43kg (95 lbs), fired from two massive French armoured guns on Mount Igman, slammed into the target at about 10pm local time, three hours after the Serbs' second attack on the Egyptian UN position.

The first attack had injured six Egyptians, two seriously. The UN did not respond because they could not establish exactly where the mortar fire had come from.

"The Serb guns fell silent", a UN source added. "That's why we think we hit them". Twelve British light guns were dug in a month ago on the slopes of the mountain, which rises more than 6,000ft south-west of Sarajevo.

The French , who provide the other main component of the 10,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force, then committed eight self-propelled guns, which have light armoured protection in case they come under fire from hostile artillery and mortars.

Four of the French guns, with a range of 28km (17 miles) were in position on the mountain on Tuesday night. Another four had been delayed at the Croatia-Bosnia border, but the UN hoped to be able to bring them into Bosnia yesterday.

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