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NATO Bombs Serb Missile Sites in 'Self-Defense'

October 05, 1995|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VIENNA — For the first time in three weeks, NATO warplanes bombed Bosnian Serb targets Wednesday, attacking antiaircraft missile batteries that locked onto allied jets overhead, NATO and U.N. officials said.

In separate incidents, two Bosnian Serb surface-to-air missile systems in central Bosnia-Herzegovina and a third in the south turned their radar onto NATO planes conducting routine patrol missions, NATO spokesman Nino Pagetta said from Naples, Italy. The NATO aircraft responded "in self-defense" by launching anti-radar missiles, Pagetta said.

Wednesday's attacks came as American peace negotiators in the Balkans reported progress, evidence of atrocities by Croatian forces mounted and the president of one former Yugoslav republic struggled to recover from an assassination attempt.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization in mid-September suspended a 16-day aerial campaign against Bosnian Serbs after the separatists withdrew heavy weapons besieging Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.

The bombing campaign targeted the Serbs' air defense network, as well as communication systems and ammunition dumps. But as Wednesday's incidents showed, much of the rebels' missile batteries either remained intact or have been repaired.

It was a Bosnian Serb surface-to-air missile that shot down an American fighter pilot in June after an earlier series of air strikes, and the missile sites could represent a significant threat to NATO aircraft that continue to enforce a "no-fly" zone in the skies over Bosnia.

The bombings on Wednesday did not mark a resumption of the air campaign, NATO and U.N. officials said, but were limited acts of self-defense allowable under NATO rules of engagement.

Pagetta, the NATO spokesman, declined to identify the home countries of the planes involved Wednesday, but the overwhelming majority of aircraft used in the bombings have been American.

Pagetta also said there was no information on the extent of damage inflicted.

In Sarajevo, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, continuing a frenetic pace of shuttle diplomacy, emerged from a meeting with Bosnian government officials and announced that he had received a "serious cease-fire proposal."

He said he would immediately convey it to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is acting as powerbroker for all Serbs in the negotiations.

Details were not released, but news reports from Sarajevo suggested that the proposal might involve opening routes to Gorazde, the last Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia.

The Muslim-led Bosnian government has also insisted that a cease-fire be predicated on restoration of water, gas and electricity to the capital. Most utilities were severed by the Serbs as part of their campaign to strangle the city into submission.

The Bosnian government has been resisting a cease-fire because it has made military gains in recent weeks, recapturing significant chunks of territory from the Serbs.

That trend may be reversing now, however, as the Serbs mount a formidable counteroffensive in parts of northwest Bosnia that recently fell under government control.

On Wednesday, there were positive signals from Bosnian government circles, with some officials suggesting that a cease-fire agreement might be imminent.

The instability of the Balkans was further dramatized with a car bombing on Tuesday that seriously injured Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov.

Parliament Speaker Stojan Andov was named acting president Wednesday amid fears that Gligorov, a U.S. ally who managed to insulate Macedonia from the region's warfare, will not be able to resume official functions.

Diplomatic sources in Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, said the 78-year-old Gligorov, who underwent extensive surgery to remove shrapnel from his face and head, suffered swelling of the brain that may incapacitate him.

More than 100 people were reportedly questioned in connection with the bombing, which killed Gligorov's driver, but there were no claims of responsibility.

Gligorov's recent overtures to Macedonia's historic enemy, Greece, and to Serbia--as well as tolerance for Macedonia's Albanian minority--earned him praise among U.S. officials.

But his moves have also stirred enmity among the hard-line nationalists of his own country, which declared independence from the Yugoslav federation in 1991.

Meanwhile, evidence continued to mount Wednesday that Croatian forces, recipients of strong U.S. political support, have killed and abused ethnic Serbian minorities in the wake of recapturing the mutinous Krajina region.

U.N. officials on Wednesday reported that a 74-year-old woman was wrapped in a fishing net with a tire placed around her neck, then set afire. Her 76-year-old husband was also burned alive, U.N. officials said.

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