NATO Planes Attack Weapon Depot Near Bosnian Serb Headquarters
PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ NATO warplanes bombed an ammunition depot near the Bosnian Serb headquarters of Pale today, making good on a U.N. threat to punish the Serbs for shelling Sarajevo.
The choice of target appeared intended to send a strong message to the Serbs, who had failed to return four heavy weapons taken from a U.N. arms depot by a noon deadline.
Defense Secretary William Perry, calling the shelling of Sarajevo ``reprehensible,″ said U.S. attack planes were among the NATO aircraft that took part in today’s attack.
President Clinton in Washington said he backed the air strikes.
In the runup to the attack, air raid sirens wailed and children were hastily sent home from school in Pale, a mountain resort nine miles southeast of Sarajevo.
NATO commander Adm. Leighton Smith in Naples, Italy, reported the attacks were successful but said an assessment of the damage was premature. He said all the planes returned safely to Aviano and other bases in Italy, and cautioned that further NATO attacks were possible.
The U.S. planes that participated in the raid outside Pale included two F-18Ds and four F-16Cs. They were supported by two EF-111 electronic warfare jets, one HB-130 tanker and two MH-53 search and rescue helicopters.
U.S. officials traveling with Perry in Europe also said two F-18 attack jets from Spain, one Dutch F-16 and one French Mirage took part in today’s raid.
A large, brown cloud hung over Pale, which serves as the headquarters for Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the rebel leadership. Karadzic was in northern Bosnia until late Wednesday so it was unlikely he was in Pale at the time of the attack.
But the choice of a target so close to his headquarters apparently was intended to send a message to the Bosnian Serb leader that he is vulnerable to U.N. and NATO attack at any time.
U.N. officials in Sarajevo said the choice of target may hurt the Serb war effort.
``It’s a major facility,″ said spokesman Lt. Col. Gary Coward.
Another U.N. official said the dump was in a valley, away from populated areas, and that it had been used in violations of the ban on heavy weapons around Sarajevo.
However, the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA said the jets attacked a settlement called Jahorinski Potok east of Pale.
The Bosnian Serbs had been under threat of NATO airstrikes after they failed to comply with an ultimatum to return the four weapons to U.N.-guarded collection sites.
The U.N. commander in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, had given the Serbs the noon (6 a.m. EDT) deadline after tanks, cannons and mortars pounded the Bosnian capital Wednesday.
Unfazed, the Serbs let the deadline expire without returning the weapons.
Peacekeepers at one weapons depot, however, were trapped by Serb-laid mines as a form of detention. While the United Nations declined to characterize them as Serb hostages, the Serbs have previously used U.N. peacekeepers as shields.
Last November, NATO jets struck in northwest Bosnia, prompting the Serbs to detain hundreds of peacekeepers. Karadzic had warned that the United Nations would be treated as ``enemies″ in case of new air strikes.
The western military alliance is authorized to attack any heavy weapons found within 12 1/2 miles of the Bosnian capital.
Smith issued the ultimatum after the Serbs ignited a day of fighting Wednesday centering on a strategic hill south of the city center. Grenades packed with phosphorus, which burns on contact and is banned by international treaties, slammed into downtown Sarajevo.
Ten people were reported killed and 57 wounded in government-controlled parts of Sarajevo. On the Serb side, an 8-year-old girl was killed and nine people were reported wounded.
The last NATO attack around Sarajevo was Sept. 22, when U.S. and British jets went after a Serb tank that was firing at U.N. peacekeepers.
The fighting Wednesday came after a week of building tensions resulting from the worst shelling to rock Sarajevo in two years.
It also followed a failed U.S. diplomatic push to get Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia’s president, to recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina, which would increase pressure on Bosnian Serbs to resume peace talks. Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia aspire to link up with Serbia in a Greater Serbia.
About 200,000 people have died or disappeared in the Bosnia war since it broke out in April 1992.