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NATO War Planes Bomb Tank after Attack by Bosnian Serbs

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times
VIENNA, Austria

NATO war planes on Thursday punished a Bosnian Serb attack on U.N. troops by bombing an unmanned tank near Sarajevo, increasing tension in the troubled peacekeeping mission and reminding a world distracted by other crises that war still rages in the Balkans.

The air strikes, launched at dusk by American and British aircraft, were provoked by a Bosnian Serb attack on French troops earlier in the day, NATO officials said. In that incident, four, rocket-propelled grenades were fired at a light-tank unit northeast of Sarajevo. One French soldier was seriously wounded.

The NATO action was called for by French Gen. Bertrand de LaPresle, the U.N. Protection Force commander, "to prove that he would not take the attack on the French tank lying down," said Squadron Leader (Maj.) Nigel Branston, a spokesman at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's headquarters for southern Europe in Naples, Italy.

But the air strike threatened to widen a rift between NATO countries with peacekeeping forces deployed in Bosnia and others - chiefly the United States - who have been pressing for tougher measures against the defiant Bosnian Serbs without the same need to fear consequences for troops on the ground.

French and British soldiers serving with the U.N. mission in Bosnia have become the chief targets of angry Bosnian Serbs as pressure builds in Western countries for an end to a U.N. arms embargo that has severely disadvantaged the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, commander for U.N. troops in Bosnia, vociferously opposes any moves the rebels would see as outside forces taking sides against them, such as air strikes or seeking to arm the government forces. Rose has repeatedly declined to use force to compel Bosnian Serbs to abide by weapons-exclusion zones proclaimed around Sarajevo and the eastern town of Gorazde.

Bosnian Serb forces also routinely violate a "no-fly" zone declared over Bosnia. Paul Risley, a spokesman at U.N. headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia, said U.N. observers have reported "scores of sorties" by Bosnian Serb helicopters to battle fronts in the republic's northeast.

But Thursday's air strike was carried out by NATO aircraft flying over Bosnia in what are usually symbolic patrols.

LaPresle called on NATO to retaliate for the attack on the French unit, prompting alliance commanders in Naples to order pilots near Sarajevo to find and destroy a previously identified target, a T-55 tank deployed about two miles from the U.N.-controlled airport in violation of the weapons-exclusion zone.

A U.S. A-10 Warthog, the air combat workhorse dubbed the "tank-buster," located the tank and ran a strafing sortie at 6:25 p.m. The pilot reported back that he was unsure he had hit the target shrouded in shadows, Branston said. Two British Jaguars then swept the area near the Bosnian Serb base at Lukavica, each dropping a 1,000-pound bomb.

"We have no final report on damages," Branston said. "The (U.S.) cannon fire was thought to have missed, but the 1,000-pound bombs hit on or very near to the target."