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Snags Delay Cease-Fire in Bosnia

October 10, 1995|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — As NATO warplanes bombed Bosnian Serb positions, the Bosnian government Monday refused to join in a U.S.-brokered cease-fire because critical utilities had not been restored to this beleaguered capital.

The postponement of the cease-fire came amid deadly shelling of civilian and U.N. targets, another wave of ethnic expulsions and continued fighting as Bosnia-Herzegovina's warring factions rush to consolidate battlefield gains.

Two lines that bring electricity to Sarajevo had been repaired and the area around them cleared of mines, but natural gas was not yet flowing into the city, U.N. officials said Monday night after a two-hour meeting with Bosnian Serbs and government representatives at the Sarajevo airport.

The Muslim-led government, in negotiations last week with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, had conditioned its acceptance of the cease-fire on the resumption of utilities to a once-cosmopolitan capital where residents are now forced to cook over wood stoves and cannot heat their devastated homes.

"It was clear to the Bosnian government that the necessary preconditions for the commencement of the cease-fire have not been met," Antonio Pedauye, political head of the U.N. mission in Bosnia, said, reading from a prepared statement.

"Absent a cease-fire, we urge both parties to exercise maximum restraint at this critical stage."

The government indicated that it was postponing its participation in the cease-fire, which had been scheduled to start at 12:01 a.m. today, but not renouncing it nor the larger peace process. That process will bring the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia to talks sponsored by the Clinton Administration in the United States later this month.

There have been dozens of cease-fires in the Bosnian war's 3 1/2 years, but the current initiative is thought to have a better chance to work in part because of the pressure coming from Washington.

Hasan Muratovic, the Bosnian official in charge of relations with the United Nations, went on Bosnian television to say the truce will take effect as soon as feverish work on utilities is completed.

A U.S. official said Monday that the gas has been turned on and could reach Sarajevo from its source in Russia within hours.

Just hours before the truce was to take effect, North Atlantic Treaty Organization aircraft bombed a Bosnian Serb command-and-control bunker thought to be directing a second day of shelling near the U.N.-designated "safe area" of Tuzla. Six U.S. aircraft dropped laser-guided bombs on the bunker, which was believed to have been destroyed, a NATO spokesman said in Naples, Italy.

A 29-year-old Norwegian U.N. peacekeeper and two civilians were killed in the Bosnian Serb shelling, U.N. officials said. Two days of mortar and artillery attacks have claimed 16 lives and wounded more than 90 people, including many at a refugee camp hit Sunday.

Bosnian government officials, who accused the rebel Serbs of trying to sabotage the peace process, welcomed NATO's retaliation for the shelling.

"This is exactly the step that will enable us to continue with the cease-fire and the peace process as a whole," Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic told reporters from Tunis, Tunisia. "Air strikes mean peace."

Humanitarian officials meanwhile denounced a new wave of ethnic-based expulsions in which an estimated 1,000 Muslim men were taken away by Bosnian Serb soldiers.

In what appears to be a final push to rid Serb-held territory of Muslims and Croats, Serbian paramilitary units rounded up about 3,500 women and children in the last several days from the northwestern Bosnian towns of Prijedor and Bosanski Novi near the Serbian stronghold of Banja Luka and expelled them south into a government-controlled region, U.N. officials said.

The officials quoted the women as saying men were separated from their families--in some cases pulled off buses--and have not been seen since. Many of the women were kept in a stadium without water for several days, they said.

The refugees told the officials that they were forced to ford a river and that a number drowned.

The survivors blamed the expulsions on the notorious warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, better known as "Arkan," whose presence has been detected in northwest Bosnia.

"It's a brutal wave of expulsions, reminiscent of the first months of the war," said Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"We don't think that a cease-fire is going to change anything for the minorities in Banja Luka. They have been expelled and will continue to be expelled. This seems to be their sealed fate."

Ultimately, if officials' public statements are to be believed, it was not the "ethnic cleansing," nor the shelling in Tuzla, that undermined the cease-fire.

"Whether it's tonight or a year from now, that's when the cease-fire will begin--when the electricity and the gas are turned on," government adviser Omar Sacirbey said.

Pedauye of the U.N. mission said the two main electrical power lines feeding Sarajevo have been repaired.

Gas, which is used for heating and cooking, is more complicated. It begins in Russia and flows in a pipeline through Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia and finally to Bosnia.

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