City's calmer, but mortar blasts, gunfire show that siege of Sarajevo marches on

February 24, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- A mortar blast, a surge in machine-gun fire, a thwarted aid delivery and U.N. discovery of dozens more heavy weapons in Serbian-held territory made clear yesterday that the siege of Sarajevo has not ended.

Although the capital remains calm in comparison with the unbridled bombardment of the previous 22 months, United Nations officials are finding it more difficult each day to pass off the NATO ultimatum for ending the strangulation of this city as a resounding success.

A mortar that detonated on the city's eastern outskirts overnight was too close to the confrontation line between Bosnian government and Serbian rebel forces to determine which side had fired it, said Lt. Col. Bill Aikman, spokesman for the U.N. Protection Force in Bosnia.

U.N. officials have been assuring the international community since NATO's Monday deadline for withdrawal of all heavy artillery from a 12-mile zone around Sarajevo that a sophisticated French radar system in place here could precisely locate any weapon firing on the capital in violation of a cease-fire.

But Colonel Aikman said the explosion was too distant from the radar system, located at the eastern edge of the city, making it impossible to determine the source and fix a target for retaliation.

U.N. troops likewise claimed they could not pinpoint the source of artillery fire on a convoy of Swedish peacekeepers near the northeastern city of Tuzla on Tuesday, in which five soldiers were injured.

But the chief of staff of the Nordic battalion that was targeted in the attack, Lt. Col. Alf Gorsjo, told news agency reporters in Tuzla that the fire came from Serb-held territory.

Colonel Aikman conceded that despite earlier assurances that the Serbs had complied with the NATO deadline for withdrawing or surrendering heavy weapons, "a surprising amount of stuff has been left in every imaginable location around the countryside."

Colonel Aikman said 121 suspicious sites had been identified by NATO air and U.N. ground inspections since the deadline was reached. Although most sites were vacant, at least 32 were found to hold combat-ready weapons.

U.N. troops are being assigned to each site.

A telling indication that NATO's Feb. 9 edict for liberating Sarajevo has evaporated amid U.N. objections to Western military intervention was the refusal by French peacekeepers to allow an aid official to cross the U.N.-patrolled siege line.

The Sarajevo director of the International Rescue Committee, John Fawcett, had obtained the support of the U.N. commander in Bosnia, British Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, for a first attempt to deliver humanitarian relief goods directly from central Sarajevo to the Serbian-held Grbavica neighborhood a few hundred yards away.

As part of the NATO ultimatum for ending the siege, U.N. troops have taken over patrols of the front lines between Serb-held and government-held sectors. Sir Michael has said these patrols should lead to free movement in and out of the capital.

Mr. Fawcett said he had a written directive from the U.N. commander to that effect. Nevertheless, French troops standing watch on the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity connecting central Sarajevo with Grbavica stopped him from crossing with his truckload of boots.

U.N. officials also appear to be backing off a March 7 date set by the U.N. chief of peacekeeping operations, Kofi Annan, for opening Tuzla airport for an airlift of relief supplies.

"We're looking at our resources and capabilities," Colonel Aikman said. "That is a proposal rather than a firm date."

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