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Bosnian Serb Gunmen Kill Aid Worker : Balkans: Local U.N. commander asks for NATO air strike in response. But his request is denied.

October 19, 1994|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnian Serb gunmen killed a humanitarian aid worker in an attack on a U.N. convoy Tuesday, provoking a plea for NATO air strikes that was denied by the rebel-encircled U.N. command here.

The fatal attack on the convoy near the U.N.-declared "safe area" of Gorazde was the second blatant affront to the troubled Bosnian peacekeeping mission in as many days and appeared to be an attempt by Serbian forces to test the limits of the world's seeming indifference to the 30-month-old Bosnian war.

Serbian gunmen had hijacked five truckloads of medical supplies in the presence of French peacekeepers a day earlier and refused demands lodged at the highest levels for return of the stolen goods.

After Serbian forces fired on the food convoy leaving Gorazde on Tuesday, killing the Bosnian driver of one truck, the British commander of U.N. forces in the eastern Bosnian town appealed to the U.N. hierarchy based in Zagreb, Croatia, for a display of air power to punish the attackers, mission spokesman Paul Risley said.

But Maj. Koos Sol, a U.N. military spokesman at the forward command center here in the Bosnian capital, said British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose and the Zagreb-based mission commander, French Gen. Bertrand de Lapresle, decided against any use of force.

"It was decided during discussions that this would not be useful," said Sol, who described the situation at the attack scene in Gorazde as "stable."

According to other sources at the command center here, Rose worked out a deal with Bosnian Serb warlord Gen. Ratko Mladic that would avert any show of NATO force in exchange for letting the United Nations retrieve what remained of the marooned convoy.

Three truckloads of food and seeds, as well as two British armored vehicles that had been providing protective escort, were recovered, along with the two uninjured drivers, said a spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees here.

While Mladic appeared to have allowed the evacuation near Gorazde to proceed, his promise late Monday to return the stolen medical cargo reportedly remained unfulfilled Tuesday night.

The rebel attack near Gorazde occurred just outside a 12-mile weapons-exclusion zone proclaimed in April after a Serbian rampage conquered nearly half of the U.N. haven, killing hundreds of civilians and forcing more than 25,000 Muslims from their homes.

Despite the incident's occurring outside the zone, however, any attack on U.N. peacekeeping forces is grounds for calling in air power.

"They're seeing what they can get away with," protested an angry aid official. Referring to the medical supply theft, during which French soldiers at the Sarajevo checkpoint stood idly by, the official said the U.N. Protection Force "should have stood up to them. They should have locked the drivers in the armored vehicle (for protection) and called in reinforcements."

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