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Belligerent Serbs Provoke Second NATO Air Attack

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Serb rebels, angered by a NATO air attack, provoked a second bombing raid Monday by defiantly intensifying an artillery assault on the town of Gorazde, barricading U.N. troops in Sarajevo and severing contacts with mediators trying to broker peace.

Serb tank and artillery fire on the densely populated eastern Bosnian city that is a U.N.-designated "safe haven" continued even after two U.S. F-18 jets bombed rebel artillery positions for a second day.

The air strikes destroyed one Serb tank and damaged two others, Maj. Dacre Holloway, a U.N. spokesman, confirmed after the American war planes dropped three bombs on the rebel position at 2:19 p.m. local time.

But the Serbs continued to bombard the mostly Muslim enclave of 65,000, inflicting the heaviest casualties on the civilian population since the offensive began two weeks ago, according to U.N. officials and Western relief workers in Gorazde.

A French physician from the international relief group Doctors Without Borders told reporters here in a ham radio exchange that 62 had been killed in the previous 24 hours, bringing the two-week death toll to more than 150.

The unrelenting attack prompted British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, the U.N. commander for Bosnia, to threaten further reprisals unless the belligerence stopped speedily. "You've got 10 minutes or you get it again," Holloway quoted Rose as telling Serbs in his final warning.

The last heavy artillery shell reported by U.N. monitors in the besieged pocket landed at 4:09 p.m. local time, said Maj. Rob Annink, chief spokesman for the 13,000-strong U.N. mission in Bosnia. That was about 25 minutes after Rose's ultimatum, and shells continued to fall farther south for another hour, other U.N. sources reported.

The defiant posture of the rebels, who massively outgun the Bosnian government forces but present a pitiful match for NATO, suggested a deadly showdown may be in the offing between the Serb nationalists who have conquered 70 percent of Bosnia and the Western powers that have long relied on diplomacy in their frustrated effort to stop the war.

The Serb actions were a coordinated effort at belligerence after the first deadly air strike Sunday and demonstrated that the rebels were not yet prepared to back down.

Gunmen loyal to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, his fiercely nationalist military commander, erected barricades across the sole access road to Sarajevo airport and barred U.N. personnel, diplomats and foreign journalists from entering or leaving the city.

All humanitarian relief flights and aid convoys were suspended as a security precaution, and a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees official in Sarajevo reported what appeared to be deliberate targeting of the relief agency's staff and facilities in Gorazde. One shell landed so close to the U.N. refugee agency office that it blew out the windows and sent the staff running for cover in basement shelters, said agency spokesman Kris Janowski.

The 13 U.N. military personnel in the enclave also came under sniper fire from Serb positions and were forced to take cover in their bunkers, U.N. sources said.

A statement issued from Karadzic's mountain stronghold in Pale, about 10 miles east of here, said the Bosnian Serbs were breaking all contacts with the U.N. Protection Force.

The only remaining channel of communication to the rebels appears to be Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vitaly S. Churkin, who met with Serb leaders in Belgrade, then headed for consultations with Karadzic and Mladic.

Churkin expressed confidence after his talks with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that he could rescue the negotiations aimed at an overall peace settlement in Bosnia. He offered an implied criticism of the Bosnian Serb hard-liners for escalating the Gorazde offensive to crisis proportions.

Churkin, Russia's special envoy for the troubled Balkans, echoed Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin's criticism of the NATO air strikes, saying they were conducted without appropriate consultation with Moscow. But he conceded that the Western alliance had been provoked into embarking on the "slippery slope" of intervention.