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Despite NATO Ultimatum, Serb Heavy Guns Remain

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

Eighteen heavy artillery pieces scattered across a square mile of rugged, snowy ridgetop have been deemed by the U.N. Protection Force to be firmly under the control of 2nd Lt. Spike Martin and his British platoon.

Yet some of the mortars and howitzers on the steep flanks of this mountain village northwest of Sarajevo still have their barrels trained on the Bosnian capital. Not one has been inspected or dismantled by the U.N. forces assigned here. And all are clearly within easy reach of the gun-slinging Serb rebels, who outnumber Martin's 20-odd men at least 3-1.

Although all heavy guns within a U.N.-designated exclusion zone around the Bosnian capital were supposed to have been withdrawn or surrendered to U.N. forces by 1 a.m. Monday local time, only one of the 18 said to be monitored at this official U.N. "collection center" is even within the British troops' sight.

The sole 105mm howitzer actually pulled out of its sandbagged battery has been hitched to a Bosnian Serb army truck and parked about 100 yards downhill from the Britons' roadside encampment.

As conditions at Osjek and at least 31 other weapons depots make clear, U.N. officials have papered over Serbian defiance of a NATO ultimatum for demilitarizing the hills ringing Sarajevo by declaring the status quo to be close enough to conformance.

The vast and rugged Osjek slope is one of eight places within the 12-mile exclusion zone officially designated by U.N. officers as weapons containment sites. Eighteen other Serb-held areas around Sarajevo are known to still host heavy weapons covered by the NATO ultimatum but described by Rose as under U.N. control. At least six others were brought to U.N. attention Monday after NATO aerial reconnaissance flights over the exclusion zone, bringing to 32 the total of known Serb gun emplacements with U.N. supervision that is equal or less than that at Osjek.

French public-affairs officers who arranged a brief and heavily Serb-controlled visit to the Osjek gun emplacements Monday appeared chagrined at the sight of the hillside batteries that are virtually unchanged despite the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's much-heralded ultimatum.

The local Serb commander, Col. Vladimir Radojic, held up the U.N.-arranged press visit until nightfall, then forbade journalists to photograph the weaponry, limiting the 10-minute tour to talks with the newly arrived deployment of Martin's platoon of the 2nd Company of Britain's Coldstream Guards.

"The weapons are under our protection and containment over about a square kilometer," Martin replied when asked if his men had unequivocal control over the guns. The actual area placed under Martin's control Saturday was larger than the square kilometer he estimated: Just those Serb gun emplacements visible from the roadside extended more than a mile.

The British troops had not been asked to inspect, relocate or render inoperable any of the weapons on their assigned terrain, said Martin, who could not say how many of the guns were still ready for firing because Radojic had yet to tell him.

Asked if he could guarantee that the weapons could never be retaken by the Serb rebels whose homes and front-line positions surround the new U.N. encampment, Martin replied, "I don't think that would happen at the moment, because our relations with them are good. They want peace as much as anyone else wants peace."

The U.N. commander for Bosnian-based forces, British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, has boasted that his formula for defining compliance with the ultimatum has brought about peace, as what was once a daily ration of hundreds of artillery shells blasted at Sarajevo has recently ceased.

But the 380,000 people still trapped in the Bosnian capital fear the end of bombardment may have come at the price of an indefinite armed standoff and long-term hindrances to their free movement, as they remain surrounded by armed Serbian forces.

Many also fear that the U.N. mission will tire of the costly, labor-intensive weapons-monitoring operation that seems largely to be a charade and will eventually abandon the so-called collection sites like Osjek and allow rebel forces to resume their siege.

Western leaders had called for punitive air strikes in the event that any heavy weaponry remained within a 12-mile radius of Sarajevo as of 1 a.m. Monday. But the appeals for forceful intervention have dissipated amid U.N. claims that the ultimatum has qualitatively eased the risks confronting Sarajevo.