SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovi na — Government troops killed 16 Bosnian Serb soldiers and four nurses Thursday, and U.N. officials said some of the victims were mutilated, others were burned and some had their throats slit.
The Muslim-led government admitted its troops killed them but denied the bodies were mutilated. All 20 had been shot in the head.
The incident on Mt. Igman, southwest of Sarajevo, threatened a U.N. agreement with the Bosnian Serbs that reopened the capital's airport to food airlifts Thursday.
Yasushi Akashi, the top U.N. official in the former Yugoslav federation, lodged a protest with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.
Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbs, Croats and Muslims have all been accused of atrocities against ethnic rivals in their fierce 30-month war, but Serbs have been blamed for most of the abuses.
Ejup Ganic, a deputy to Izetbegovic, admitted that Muslim-led government troops were responsible for the attack but said charges that the Serbs were mutilated were a "pure fabrication."
"We are not in the mutilating business, like the Serb side is," Ganic said.
A Bosnian Serb military statement carried by the Bosnian Serb news agency Srna warned that "by this criminal act . . . a powder keg that threatens to inflame not only Sarajevo but a much wider region has been set on fire."
U.N. peacekeepers found the bodies Thursday afternoon at a Serbian command post just outside a demilitarized zone on the mountain, U.N. officials said. They said they believed the Serbs were killed Thursday morning.
Bosnian Serbs removed the bodies, which, Akashi said, "in many cases were mutilated or burned and disfigured." One U.N. source said some throats had been slit.
Akashi said he told Izetbegovic of his "grave concern that some encouraging developments in the last 24 hours, including the return of prisoners and reopening of the Sarajevo airport, might be set back considerably."
A U.N. plane landed later Thursday afternoon at the airport, ending a two-week shutdown imposed by Serbs in retaliation for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization assault on one of their tanks.
Serbs and Bosnian government forces did manage Thursday to make one of their largest prisoner swaps of the war, exchanging at Sarajevo's Brotherhood and Unity Bridge 166 Muslims for 129 Serbs held by the Muslim-led government. The exchange took place after a nearly 10-hour delay.