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NATO Continues Extensive Bombing Across Bosnia

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 31, 1995; Page A01

NAPLES, Aug. 30 -- NATO warplanes, dodging antiaircraft gunfire and missiles, continued a massive assault on Serb military positions around Bosnia today in an effort to force the Bosnian Serb leadership to cease attacks on Sarajevo and other Muslim-held cities and agree to a peace settlement in the 3 1/2-year-old war.

U.S., French, British and Dutch jets, flying in darkness from air bases in Italy and the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Adriatic Sea, attacked targets near Sarajevo, the government-held cities of Tuzla, Mostar and Gorazde and the Serb stronghold of Pale, where a French plane was shot down. It was the biggest air operation in NATO's history and the largest in Europe since World War II.

The planes first targeted Serb antiaircraft missile batteries and radar systems in predawn raids, NATO officials said, then staged daylight strikes against communications systems, command and control centers and ammunition dumps. By sundown today, about 60 jets had made six separate strikes in which allied fighter-bombers were joined by an array of radar-jamming and electronic warfare aircraft to confuse Serb defenses.

As part of a coordinated assault, the multinational Rapid Reaction Force on Mount Igman outside Sarajevo fired more than 600 shells at Serb positions around the Bosnian capital in a predawn barrage, hitting a "very important" ammunition depot southwest of the city, according to a U.N. spokesman.

The Bosnian Serbs responded defiantly, shelling Sarajevo and issuing angry condemnations of NATO. But in a sign that U.S.-brokered peace negotiations may still be possible, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic announced in Belgrade that he would head a joint delegation including Bosnian Serb leaders at future peace talks. {Details on Page A31.}

A French Mirage 2000C fighter jet was shot down near Pale, just east of Sarajevo. Bosnian Serb television showed the aircraft falling to the ground in flames. There was no word on the planes' two airmen, who reportedly parachuted. The Serbs were using shoulder-launched missiles, as well as antiaircraft artillery batteries, to try to down the attacking jets, NATO spokesman Franco Veltri said.

Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier, commander of U.N. troops in the former Yugoslavia, told Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic that the NATO airstrikes would continue until hundreds of Serb mortars and artillery pieces are moved out of a 12 1/2-mile exclusion zone around Sarajevo or are destroyed. NATO officials said the Serbs also must cease threatening two other enclaves held by the Muslim-led Bosnian government, Tuzla and Gorazde, which the United Nations designated "safe areas" two years ago.

Janvier said the air raids and artillery barrages so far were able to "seriously reduce the {Serb} artillery around Sarajevo."

In Washington, Deputy Defense Secretary John White declined to provide a detailed assessment of the bombing damage but said "a large number of targets were successfully attacked" and "a substantial number of targets were damaged, heavily in many cases." Military officials involved in the operation also expressed general satisfaction with the bombing so far but said cloud cover over parts of Bosnia had prevented attacks on some targets.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who has long pleaded with Western leaders for just such a demonstration of power against the Serbs, hailed the raids as "the beginning of peace" and declared: "The world has finally done what it should have done a long, long time ago."

For their part, the Bosnian Serb leadership struck a bellicose stance -- in public, at least. The Serbs' self-styled president, Radovan Karadzic, declared that his forces were "holding firm" and would "win in the end" over NATO.

When Karadzic heard that an allied plane had been downed near Pale, he leaned out the window of the Pale TV building and shouted, "Find the pilots! Find the pilots!" according to news service reports.

Karadzic called the NATO strikes "a moral disaster for the Western world and for the U.N." because they had taken a side in the civil war. He indicated he might pull out of the latest U.S. peace initiative. "I think those bombs can destroy the peace process too," Karadzic said.

However, there were signs of Serb flexibility. According to a senior Western official, Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, offered this afternoon to withdraw his heavy weapons from around Sarajevo and agree to a cessation of hostilities.

The official said the offer was made through intermediaries to the chief U.N. official in the former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, in return for an end to the NATO airstrikes. Akashi insisted that the Bosnian Serbs comply with a string of other Western demands, including the opening of roads into U.N.-designated "safe areas," the reopening of Sarajevo's airport and an end to the shelling of civilians. Later, Mladic told Bosnian Serb television that the weapons would remain in place.

In Belgrade, Milosevic's announcement of a joint delegation to peace talks came after a meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, who is shuttling among European capitals in an effort to start negotiations on the basis of a new U.S. peace plan. Although details are not known, the general thrust of the plan entails the division of Bosnia between a Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs, who would have to surrender much of the land they have occupied since the beginning of the war.

The NATO airstrikes were carried out in response to a Serb mortar attack on a Sarajevo market that killed 37 people on Monday. The NATO attack followed a decision by alliance leaders in London last month to abandon pinprick retaliatory attacks and carry out a major air campaign against the Serbs in the event of further Serb assaults on "safe areas," including Sarajevo.

Reports about the exact damage caused by the NATO raids was sketchy. But NATO and Pentagon officials said targets had included a surface-to-air missile site near Gorazde; radar and communications sites near Tuzla and Mostar; a radar relay station at Vojkovici; an ammunition loading plant at Vogosca, north of Sarajevo; a large ammunition storage area near Pale; and the command center at Kalinovik, south of Treskavica Mountain.

The targets called for a fairly wide zone of air operations in Bosnia, but most are been concentrated in the southeast. Military officials said the target list did not include barracks or Bosnian Serb infantry formations. Rather, the focus was on facilities that have supported either the Serb air defense network or are capable of lobbing shells into Sarajevo.

In all, more than 15 sites were struck early this morning and another six or more during the day in what NATO officials described as a rolling, 24-hour campaign.

The airstrikes represented a sharp departure from the previous policy of limiting such attacks to individual artillery pieces that had bombarded cities or to runways used by Serb aircraft.

"This would be the first time that we've had an extended, protracted campaign. I would say this operation is at least four times as large as anything we've done in the past, in terms of aircraft involved," said Lt. Col. Janis Witt, a NATO spokesman.

Five European Union officials were found dead in an area being bombed by NATO, but no one here at NATO's Southern Command headquarters could say whether they had been hit by NATO bombs or were victims of Serb retaliation. The officials' bodies were severely burned.

A spokesman for the Spanish mission to the EU in Brussels said two high-ranking Spanish military officers and a Spanish envoy were killed near Sarajevo. Officials said their driver and interpreter -- one believed to be Irish, the other Dutch -- also were killed.

Both British Prime Minister John Major and French President Jacques Chirac expressed support for the NATO retaliation. Chirac said the effort "marks our determination to make the security zones around Sarajevo safe."

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, however, criticized both NATO for its "cruel acts of bombing" and the Serbs for the "shelling of peaceful regions."

U.S. officials in Washington interpreted the even-handed approach as indicating that Yeltsin was playing down his customary objections to NATO bombing.

In Brussels, NATO General Secretary Willy Claes criticized Yeltsin for treating the Serb shelling of Sarajevo and the NATO retaliation equally.

"We did not launch the provocation last Monday," Claes said. "I can give {Yeltsin} the address in Pale where he can reach the responsibles."

The NATO airstrikes yesterday against Serb military positions in Bosnia were the alliance's biggest combat undertaking since it was founded in 1949 and the largest air operation in Europe since World War II. The extent of damage caused by the raids was not immediately known.

About 60 NATO jets from Aviano Air Base and the USS Theodore Roosevelt, including more than two dozen Air Force F-16 fighters, took part in the airstrikes.

The Balkan Conflict at a Glance

Croats are Roman Catholics who are 85 percent of the population in Croatia and a fifth of the population in Bosnia. Croatian forces have not been affected by the NATO bombings. Last month they launched a major offensive that recaptured the Krajina, a border region of their country that had been held by Serbs.

Muslims make up about half of the population in Bosnia and dominate the Bosnian government and army. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who met Tuesday in Paris with U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke to discuss a peace settlement, hailed the NATO airstrikes.

Serbs are Orthodox Christians who are the majority in Serbia, a third of the Bosnia population and a small minority in Croatia. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic helped launch the wars in the former Yugoslavia four years ago. He said yesterday that he would lead a delegation including Bosnian Serbs to peace talks. In Bosnia, the Serb leadership has refused to accept U.N. and U.S. peace plans that would require them to surrender a large part of the territory they have conquered.

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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