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U.S. Troops Intervene in Bosnia Clash

Balkans: NATO-led forces seize Serbian police after Muslim refugees are attacked. Serbs blockade U.N. station.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — A futile attempt by Muslims to go home escalated Thursday into a tit-for-tat clash that ended only after American troops disarmed and detained Bosnian Serb police while an angry Serbian mob blockaded a U.N. police station.

In one of the most volatile confrontations since the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord halted Bosnia-Herzegovina's war nine months ago, U.S. troops detained 25 Serbian police who allegedly opened fire on a group of Muslim refugees who had tried to return to their war-destroyed village of Mahala. Ten Muslims were badly beaten, NATO officials said. There were no casualties reported from the gunfire.

Mahala is in Bosnian Serb territory. But the Muslims had hoped to rebuild their homes and move in, a right guaranteed in the peace treaty but rarely enforced.

The episode revived the specter of wartime hostage-taking just 16 days before national elections are meant to mark another step in Bosnia's peacetime recovery.

With one contingent of Bosnian Serb police detained in Mahala, reinforcements arrived but were also taken into custody by the Americans, who confiscated assault rifles, pistols and grenades before releasing the men late Thursday.

Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb radio broadcast a call for the defense of its "police under siege"; within hours, more than 600 Serbs surrounded the U.N. police station in nearby Zvornik, trashed U.N. vehicles and stoned U.N. personnel.

Five international U.N. police monitors, a civil affairs officer and three local support staff were trapped inside until early today. After more than eight hours, the U.N. police commissioner secured their release as the crowd dissipated or became increasingly drunk, U.N. spokesman Andrea Angeli said.

British Lt. Gen. Michael Walker, senior commander of all North Atlantic Treaty Organization ground forces in Bosnia, rushed to Mahala. He gathered up the confiscated weapons and planned to lay them at the feet of acting Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic "as tangible evidence of chicanery by her forces," NATO spokesman Canadian Maj. Brett Boudreau said.

Because Mahala is in a demilitarized zone, the armed police were in violation of the peace accord.

Meanwhile, in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, the first shipment of U.S. weapons for Bosnia's peacetime Muslim-Croat army began arriving Thursday as part of a multimillion-dollar program to balance military might in the Balkans.

About 1,000 M-16 rifles, 200 machine guns, 200 radios and ammunition were being flown in to Sarajevo airport Thursday night. The NATO-led peacekeeping force, sensitive about keeping its distance from the weapons program, restricted news coverage of the arrival, U.S. officials said.

Most of Washington's European allies object to bringing more weapons into the well-armed Balkans, where a vicious 43-month war ended only in December. But U.S. officials argue that Bosnia's Muslim faction would not have agreed to peace if it had not been assured of the chance to put its military more on a par with that of its enemies.

"Military balance has to be established for the Bosnians to be able to protect themselves," U.S. special envoy James Pardew said.

The Clinton administration is supporting the Sarajevo-based government, despite mounting concerns over the sincerity of its commitment to democracy and elections scheduled for Sept. 14. Bosnia's ruling Muslim party has been accused of terrorizing opposition politicians, and international officials this week demanded an end to government efforts to prevent an independent television network from forming.

Similarly, the government had to agree to reforms that restructure its military for the start-up of the "equip and train" program, which will also ship 15 helicopters, 45 tanks and other weaponry to Bosnia.

The Muslim-led Bosnian government was required to remove all foreign forces, chiefly Iranians, and enact a defense law that integrated its army with the Bosnian Croat army--a slow process that underscores the weakness of the U.S.-fashioned Muslim-Croat alliance that will govern half of Bosnia. Neither the re-integration of the army nor the removal of all foreign fighters has been completed.

Bosnia's deputy defense minister, Hasan Cengic, whom diplomats describe as Bosnia's principal profit-making procurer of Iranian weapons during the war, resisted the new defense law and caused expensive delays. Only stern instructions earlier this week from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to Cengic allowed the weapons to flow, Western sources said.

Because of the foot-dragging, the sources said, more than $1.5 million has been spent yet only one training seminar held; 100 employees of the private U.S. firm contracted to do the training have sat idle in a pricey Sarajevo hotel.

* DOLE ON BALKANS: GOP presidential candidate urges delay in Bosnia vote. A22

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