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NATO Continues Attacks, Vows to Lift Serb Threat : Bosnia: Alliance warplanes pound rebel positions in hopes of finally ending assaults on Sarajevo and other 'safe areas.' West also seeks to restore its credibility.

August 31, 1995|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ZAGREB, Croatia — In a new phase in the Balkan war, wave after wave of U.S. and European warplanes bombed Bosnian Serb missile batteries, air-defense radar units and command centers across Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday in the largest military operation in NATO history.

As the beleaguered residents of Sarajevo cheered allied aircraft buzzing overhead, NATO and U.N. officials vowed to continue punishing the nationalist Serbs until they no longer threaten the Bosnian capital and other civilian enclaves.

"The world has finally done what it should have done a long, long time ago," Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic said.

With the massive show of force, the West, after nearly 3 1/2 years of impotent humiliation in the former Yugoslav republic, is hoping to restore its eroded credibility while forcing the Bosnian Serbs to sue for peace.

Among developments Wednesday:

* Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier, commander of U.N. troops in the Balkans, said damage from air strikes and artillery attacks was considerable, although full assessments were still being made. Targets reported hit included Lukavica, the Serbs' principal military barracks just south of Sarajevo, and a key munitions factory in Vogosca, north of the Bosnian capital.

* While allied officials boasted of the mission's success, one French Mirage fighter was apparently shot down by rebel Serbian gunners. The fate of the two-man crew was unknown. And three Spaniards who were members of a European Union monitoring team, as well as two of their employees, reportedly were killed when their armored vehicle was struck by shells in a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo.

* Bosnian Serb leaders reacted defiantly, but several hours into the air raids, Bosnian Serb army commander Gen. Ratko Mladic contacted U.N. officials to seek a cease-fire, Western sources said. Mladic offered to withdraw big guns from around Sarajevo, but U.N. officials laid down more conditions before they would agree to call off their jets, the sources said.

* Arriving in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, a U.S. delegation pressed ahead with a peace initiative, hoping Wednesday's attacks will strengthen, not derail, the effort. There were indications that the Serbs had agreed among themselves on new responses to the latest international proposals.

* While President Clinton said he hoped the military action had taught the Bosnian Serbs that their quest for a Greater Serbia had reached its end and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said the mission has his full support, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin condemned the bombardment, contending it would not help bring peace to the Balkans.

The Assault

On Wednesday, United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces continued attacks against Bosnian Serb military targets, pummeling strategic sites such as command centers, ammunition dumps and individual tanks and artillery.

Officials said successive waves of NATO warplanes from air bases in nearby Italy and the U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt flew repeated missions near Sarajevo and other cities such as Tuzla and Mostar.

The allied air armada included Air Force F-15E and F-16C fighters, Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 attack aircraft, and warplanes from British, French, Dutch and other allied air forces.

Both NATO and U.S. officials refused to disclose many details of the assault and its effects, contending that the information might be of use to the Bosnian Serbs.

There were mixed reports about the extent of the damage from Wednesday's raids.

While NATO officials proclaimed the missions largely successful, Pentagon officials were cautious.

There was no immediate indication of how long the allies would continue their attacks, but a senior U.S. military official said NATO was prepared to sustain the bombing for at least two more days.

In the first allied casualty of the week's operations, a French Mirage 2000 fighter-bomber--one of the more than 60 warplanes involved in the 200-plus sorties flown against targets in Bosnia--was shot down by antiaircraft missiles near the Bosnian Serbs' self-styled capital, Pale.

Initial indications were that the two crew members ejected safely, and French Defense Minister Charles Millon vowed to do everything in his power to rescue them.

NATO immediately launched search-and-rescue teams.

Pentagon officials also confirmed that they have ordered another dozen or so warplanes to fly from bases in the United States and Europe to the region around Bosnia to augment existing allied forces.

On Wednesday, British, French and Dutch artillery joined the assault around Sarajevo, firing about 600 rounds against Bosnian Serb gun emplacements and ammunition dumps.

At the United Nations, Boutros-Ghali reported that French Lt. Gen. Janvier has demanded that Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander, withdraw all his heavy weapons beyond a 12 1/2-mile exclusion zone that surrounds Sarajevo.

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