Serbs gain control of western side of Sarajevo U.N. peacekeeper calls mission a failure, urges a deadline for military intervention

December 06, 1992|By New York Times News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Serbian tanks overran a key Sarajevo neighborhood yesterday after government defenders ran out of armor-piercing shells, giving Serbs control of the western side of the capital.

The chief United Nations peacekeeper in Sarajevo, Gen. Aly Abdul Razek, declared peacemaking efforts in Bosnia a failure and urged the international community to set a one-month deadline before intervening militarily.

"All these efforts we have made to save lives have completely failed," General Abdul Razek said. "The voice of guns is still louder than any peaceful efforts."

The fall of the western suburb of Otes capped the biggest Serb offensive on Sarajevo during the 8-month-old war, U.N. officials said.

The outgunned and undersupplied Bosnian defenders used all their anti-tank shells in a weeklong armored offensive that pit Serbian tanks against light artillery and infantry troops, Bosnian army officials said.

More than 100 civilians were killed in the siege of Otes, officials said. They said Serbs were pressing ahead with an attack on Stup, which would allow them to cut off the city from the airport.

The commander of the Bosnian forces pushed out of Otes, Salih Dzidic, said his men were overpowered by a force that at its peak included about 30 tanks.

"They had more tanks around Otes than we had heavy machine guns," he said.

He said Bosnian troops managed to evacuate 1,600 civilians -- mostly women and children -- from the suburb in the final hours before the Serbs moved in. Others had fled earlier, and he said virtually no one remained.

At least 17,000 people have died in the fighting, which broke out in March after Bosnia's Muslims and Croats voted to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Otes juts into the Serb-held western outskirts of the city near the fTC airport. With its fall, the Serbs have a solid line across the western part of Sarajevo.

Serbian artillery units fired shells that detonated in the air rather than on impact, U.N. monitors said. The tactic is used to inflict casualties and prevent troop movements rather than damage structures.

Sarajevo has been besieged for seven months by the Serbian nationalists, who are fighting to annex parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to a "Greater Serbia."

The mission of the U.N. peacekeepers in Sarajevo is limited to monitoring the fighting around the city and protecting convoys carrying food and medicine. The fighting around Otes forced them to keep the airport closed for a fourth straight day.

Two U.N. aircraft, including a U.S. military cargo plane, were hit by fire earlier this week, prompting the suspension of all flights into Sarajevo.

Officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sarajevo said that restarting the airlift, which provides the city's 380,000 remaining residents with desperately needed supplies, would be discussed tomorrow at a meeting in Geneva.

Since taking command of Sarajevo's peacekeepers last summer, General Abdul Razek, an Egyptian officer, has been generally low-key. Thus, his comments yesterday were all the more dramatic.

Cedric Thornberry, the senior civilian U.N. official in former Yugoslavia, said military intervention was "difficult to contemplate."

"None of us are entirely sure that the governments which could intervene are in fact ready to make the enormous commitment of people and resources and possible losses, casualties that would be required," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

In Belgrade, Serbia's Constitutional Court gave Premier Milan Panic approval yesterday to challenge hard-line President Slobodan Milosevic in elections this month.

Mr. Panic, an American millionaire, had appealed the Serbian Electoral Commission's decision Thursday to disqualify him.

The decision sets up the toughest challenge yet to Mr. Milosevic, who has ruled Serbia since 1987 and is blamed by much of the international community for the bloodshed in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Yugoslavia, which now consists of Serbia and Montenegro, will hold elections Dec. 20.

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