Bosnian Serbs make 'grudging' moves toward peace

The Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina NATO airplanes struck at Bosnian Serb positions for a third straight day today, continuing to punish the rebels even as they made grudging moves toward seeking peace.

''The operation is still going on, mostly reconnaissance flights, but we are dropping some bombs,'' Capt. Jim Mitchell, a NATO spokesman in Naples, Italy, said shortly after midnight.

There was no immediate word on today's targets. Planes were flying over Sarajevo before dawn, but no explosions were heard.

NATO and the United Nations began their aggressive new strategy on Wednesday, flying more than 300 sorties the first day. The pounding continued yesterday, although heavy cloud cover prevented many bombing raids from being carried out.

Some aircraft returned to base without dropping their bombs because they could not see their intended targets, a senior Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a U.S. envoy pursuing a diplomatic solution to the war reported a breakthrough, saying both sides now agreed to a division that would give the Serbs less than half of Bosnia. But the tough job of actually drawing the map remained.

The rebel Serbs who have besieged Sarajevo since the war began in April 1992 also began pulling some tanks away from the city.

But NATO, in no mood to accept half-measures, kept up the attacks.

NATO sources said more than 130 sorties were flown yesterday, bombing Serb ammunition storage sites in three different areas around Sarajevo.

At least two of the three ammunition storage sites attacked also had been targeted in some of the more than 300 sorties flown Wednesday, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

Sources in Pale, the Bosnian Serb headquarters southeast of Sarajevo, told The Associated Press that an army barracks and arms depot about 10 miles away had been hit late yesterday.

Bosnian Serb radio claimed five civilians were killed yesterday in NATO air attacks north of Sarajevo.

In light of the continuing airstrikes, Serb defiance appeared to be cooling.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said in a letter to the U.N. chief for former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, that his forces would not fire artillery at Bosnian ''safe areas.''

Serbs also appeared to be moving heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. Peacekeepers observed three tanks moving north and out of the 12 1/2-mile heavy weapons exclusion zone the United Nations wants around Sarajevo.

The United Nations established the zone in the winter of 1994 and the Serbs initially withdrew weapons. But they later moved back and the zone effectively collapsed this spring.

A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Serbs did not say they were doing it to comply with the zone, but called the development ''a very welcome sign.''

In other good news: Bosnian Serb TV released a videotape yesterday showing alive the five European Union monitors who were feared dead. Bosnian Serb Information Minister Miroslav Toholj said the men had left Serb territory for home, but that could not be independently confirmed.

On Wednesday, Serbs had said the five three Spaniards, one Irish and one Dutch were killed during the airstrikes. Toholj said the men had to be protected from angry Serbs after the first NATO attack.

Alliance jets searched yesterday for two French pilots who were shot down Wednesday, but there was no word on their fate.

The Pentagon sent extra planes to reinforce the NATO arsenal arrayed against the Serbs. About 20 planes were being dispatched, including electronic warfare aircraft, fuel tankers, and command and control aircraft.

President Clinton, speaking in Honolulu, praised the new NATO bombing campaign as ''the right response to the savagery in Sarajevo.

''The campaign will make clear to the Bosnian Serbs that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose by continuing to attack Sarajevo and other safe areas and by continuing to slaughter innocent civilians.''

NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes told CBS News that ''there is just one reasonable solution for the Bosnian Serbs, namely, to go back to the table of negotiation and to show willingness to accept a compromise which is equitable and which is viable.''

That may have come.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, speaking to CNN from Belgrade, Yugoslavia, late yesterday, said both the Muslim-led government and the rebel Serbs now agree to a division of Bosnia, giving a Muslim-Croat federation 51 percent of the land and the Bosnian Serbs 49 percent.

''But they have very, very different ideas of which side gets what parts of the country,'' Holbrooke cautioned. ''This is going to be a very tough negotiation.''

The Bosnian Serbs, who seized up to 70 percent of Bosnia by force in 1992, said last week they would accept nothing less than 64 percent of the land.

In what Holbrooke called a ''procedural breakthrough,'' the Bosnian Serbs also agreed to allow Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic the regional powerbroker to lead their negotiating team at peace talks.

Milosevic whipped up nationalistic fervor that exploded into fighting when Croatia and Bosnia broke off from Serb-led Yugoslavia in 1991 and 1992. But as Serbia deteriorates under a U.N. trade ban, Milosevic has pressured the Bosnian Serbs to negotiate an end to the war.

''Milosevic is now authorized to speak not only for Serbia, but also for the Serbs in Bosnia,'' Holbrooke said, adding that Milosevic has accepted the American initiative ''as the basis for these negotiations.''

Holbrooke planned further talks today with Milosevic.

NATO's new severity was prompted by the Bosnian Serb shelling of the Sarajevo marketplace Monday that left 38 people dead.

After the fall of two U.N.-declared ''safe areas'' in eastern Bosnia to the Serbs this summer, NATO pledged to defend the remaining four with air power.

Shelling continued in Sarajevo, however. The Bosnian Health Ministry said four people were killed in the city in the 24-hour period ending yesterday morning.

The United Nations said two shells also hit the northwest town of Bihac, and one landed in the northern city of Tuzla. There were no casualties.

In Naples, Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of NATO's southern flank, called Wednesday's military operation ''very successful.''

The attacks ''clearly reduced the effectiveness'' of the Serbs' integrated air defense system over eastern Bosnia, he said. ''We hope that they'll cease ... before we have to take this any further.''

Video footage at Smith's news conference showed missiles and bombs hitting a variety of Serb targets within 25 miles of Sarajevo, including military radio stations, ammunition dumps and artillery sites.

Smith said selected targets were intended to hurt Serb military capabilities around Sarajevo, but hits on the Serbs were also made around Tuzla, Mostar and other areas.

Lt. Col. Chris Vernon, a U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo, said most of the Serb fixed ground installations, communications systems, radar and anti-aircraft systems near Sarajevo, as well as a number of command posts, were destroyed.

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