Wary Sarajevo awaits the harbingers of death

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The Independent Online
EMMA DALY

Sarajevo

An ominous calm hung over Sarajevo yesterday, punctuated by air-raid sirens and the occasional crash of artillery, after President Alija Izetbegovic offered to call off the Bosnian offensive if the rebel Serbs withdrew heavy weapons, eased the siege and accepted the peace plan drawn up by the international Contact Group.

For the third consecutive day, Bosnian forces fired shells towards the Bosnian Serbs' self-declared "capital", Pale, east of Sarajevo, , but no casualties were reported. A woman was killed by a shell in the government- held suburb of Hrasnica, and her baby was seriously wounded.

The Bosnian Serbs have yet to respond to Mr Izetbegovic, but are unlikely to accept a plan they rejected last year unless the government army is inflicting serious damage, something the UN cannot assess, as its troops are restricted in movement by the government.

The last 26 peace-keepers held hostage by the Serbs arrived in Zagreb yesterday and are likely to rejoin their units soon, though not at positions within Serb-held territory. The UN admitted that, having withdrawn from weapon-collection points in Serb-held territory, the heavy-weapons exclusion zone around the city was defunct, but added that the organisation was now better placed to concentrate on delivering aid. "It does give us an opportunity now to re-establish a new relationship with the Bosnian Serbs, given that we don't have as many as 400 potential hostages around Sarajevo," said Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Coward, a UN spokesman.

"Now that we have secured our people as far as we can, our next priority really is to re-establish some adequate freedom of movement, so we can go about the primary focus of our mission, which is the delivery of humanitarian aid," Col Coward said. Food is fast running out in the city, and the UN says its supplies will be exhausted by the end of this month.

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