Snow, disorder slow Serbs' compliance

February 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

PALE, BOSNIA-HEREZEGOVINA — PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- In chaos compounded by heavy snow, Serbian forces ringing Sarajevo stepped up efforts yesterday to place their heavy weapons under United Nations guard or pull them back from the besieged capital in compliance with a NATO ultimatum.

With the deadline less than 36 hours away, U.N. troops seemed to be scrambling to keep track of the operation, and it was by no means clear in the snow-covered hills whether the peacekeepers could control the arms that were handed over.

NATO has threatened to begin air strikes against Serbian arms sites at 1 a.m. tomorrow (7 p.m. Sunday EST) if operable heavy weapons remain within 20 kilometers, or about 12 1/2 miles, of the center of Sarajevo.

Although Radovan Karadzic, the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, has pledged that the arms will be pulled back or handed over by tonight, it was clear from the confusion that he would not meet that goal.

A day after affirming Dr. Karadzic's confident prediction, the United Nations was taking a more cautious tone. "For the moment, the regrouping of weapons is going quite well," said Col. Richard Pernad, a U.N. spokesman at the Serbian barracks in Lukavica, a suburb of Sarajevo. "We have about 100 pieces from both sides. But I do not know how many pieces there are in all to be collected, and it is too early to say if compliance will be complete enough to avoid NATO air strikes."

Yesterday, Bosnia's Muslim-led government charged that U.N. troops were allowing Serbs simply to move their heavy artillery to other firing positions. Vice President Ejup Ganic contended that the compounds in which the weapons are being deposited actually allowed the Serbs to consolidate their weaponry in stronger combat positions.

Responding to these charges over the guns, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, the U.N. commander in Sarajevo, said last night it was "irrelevant where they happen to be located."

"The point is that putting the weapons under our control is more important in the initial phase than geography," he said.

At Lukavica, Colonel Pernad and Serbian officers led reporters to a hangar that they said was filled with weapons recently removed from the front. There were two 105 mm howitzers, four 75 mm cannons, three 105 mm cannons, two mortars and an anti-aircraft gun so rusted it appeared virtually useless.

Only the snow-covered 105 mm cannons looked as if they had just been withdrawn from the hills.

NATO said earlier this month that it would strike against heavy weapons that were not moved at least 20 kilometers from Sarajevo or placed under U.N. control by 1 a.m. tomorrow. The deadline applies to the Bosnian Serbs and to the government.

Col. Ljuban Kosovac, the Serbian commander at Lukavica, on the southwestern edge of Sarajevo, said all Serbian heavy weapons would be placed in eight locations under U.N. supervision or withdrawn last night if possible. "But conditions are bad, the organization is difficult and the operation could drag into tomorrow," he added.

Serbian and U.N. officers said their agreement calls for U.N. platoons of 30 to 40 soldiers each to oversee the weapons that are handed over. Some Serbian troops -- the number is unclear -- would assure "maintenance" of the weapons.

But the U.N. platoons were nowhere to be seen yesterday, and there was evidence of acute organizational problems.

Sir Michael has said repeatedly that U.N. control over weapons meant the Serbs would have to fight to get them back.

U.N. and Serbian officers said the weapons would be grouped at eight sites, including Lukavica, Ilidza, Hresa, Poljine and Grbavica, where there would be two sites. Colonel Pernad said the weapons would be overseen by British, French and Ukrainian soldiers in the U.N. force.

Asked about the Russian troops whose deployment around Sarajevo was described last week as crucial in persuading the Serbs to meet the deadline, Colonel Pernad said he did not expect them until "some time next week."

FTC Remarks by Serbian fighters and U.N. soldiers bolstered the impression that Russia had provided a way for the Serbs to save face while bending to NATO's will.

But Serbian fighters dismissed such a notion, saying they were only honoring an agreement worked out on Thursday between the United Nations and Russia.

The withdrawal, confused and patchy, is still clearly substantial.

But in the course of a day on the hills surrounding Sarajevo, only 22 pieces of Serbian artillery were seen being stored or withdrawn. Neither Serbian nor U.N. officials were prepared to estimate the total to be neutralized.

On one road between Grbavica and Lukavica, an armored personnel carrier and a truck had broken down and were being towed back to their original positions.

Eventually they were dragged out of the way in the thick snow, which enabled two trucks pulling multiple-rocket launchers and four trucks towing anti-aircraft guns to pass by on their way to Lukavica.

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