Bosnia war still rages

The Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-HerzegovinačSharply raising the stakes in the Bosnian war, the West pounded the Bosnian Serbs with artillery and air attacks Wednesday in hopes of forcing them to make peace. But a top Serb commander said it would take more than that to dislodge their weapons around Sarajevo.

U.N. and Bosnian Serb sources reported damage to Serb air defense systems, weapons depots and command centers around Sarajevo.

The West's gamble showed early signs of paying off, though one French plane was shot down. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and a Serb leader in Bosnia talked about continuing talks on a U.S.-proposed peace plan.

The attacks, NATO's biggest assault in its history, could mark a turning point in the 40-month-old war that has tested U.N. and NATO credibility and left an estimated 200,000 Bosnians dead or missing.

NATO and U.N. officials warned the Serbs to stop attacking civilians and return to peace talks or brace for more of the same.

''The world has finally done what it should have done a long, long time ago,'' said Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who characterized the assault as ''the beginning peace.''

The Bosnian Serb Radovan Karadzic leader sounded a defiant note, accusing NATO and the U.N. of declaring war. ''This is a precedent which could jeopardize world peace and trigger the Third World War,'' he warned.

Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic dismissed a demand by U.N. commander Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier of France, who said the NATO attacks would continue until Serb heavy weapons are removed from around besieged Sarajevo.

''We are standing on our positions,'' Mladic told Bosnian Serb TV. ''We will not be the first to fire, but we will respond to every attack.''

The bombing raids began around 2 a.m. Wednesday. Capt. Jim Mitchell, a spokesman at NATO headquarters in Naples, Italy, said at midnight that they were still underway.

Late Wednesday afternoon, a French Mirage fighter jet was shot down near the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, east of Sarajevo. Its two crew members were seen parachuting from the burning plane, but their fate was unknown.

''Find the pilots! Find the pilots!'' Karadzic shouted from the window of the Bosnian Serb television building in Pale.

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