In the first blatant military defiance of the U.N.-mandated "no-fly zone," three light planes last week dropped bombs on villages near the besieged Muslim town of Srebrenica during the Serbian offensive now raging in eastern Bosnia, the United Nations reported Tuesday.
The evident escalation of Serbian aggression could aggravate peace negotiations that are due to resume at U.N. headquarters this week.
The United Nations said it was unable to identify the ownership of the planes that took part in the raid Saturday, but it noted that the planes had turned in the direction of Serbia after the bombing. Because the villages being bombed were Muslim, the Bosnian Serbs are likely to be blamed for the attacks.
The raid will probably renew demands for enforcement of the no-fly zone. In a resolution last October, the Security Council, trying to halt Serbian air raids against the Bosnians, ordered all aircraft to stop flying over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although the Security Council did not authorize enforcement, and the zone, by U.N. count, was violated 465 times, the air raids did stop. Until last Saturday, none of the illegal flights had involved a military attack.
The Clinton Administration has hinted that enforcement of the zone will be a club used against the Bosnian Serbs if they fail to accept a Western-mediated peace plan.
Arguing against U.S. proposals for enforcement of the no-fly zone in the past, the British and French governments, fearing reprisals against their peacekeepers in Bosnia, have insisted that enforcement was unnecessary because none of the violations involved bombings.
The raids occurred while French Gen. Philippe Morillon, commander of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, made Srebrenica his temporary headquarters in hopes of contacting the Serbian besiegers to persuade them to let relief convoys reach the trapped Muslims.
Serbs continued to block the convoys Tuesday, despite their leaders' promises to let them through.
A report from Shannon Boyd, the chief U.N. press officer for the peacekeepers in the former Yugoslav federation, said the planes were spotted by "U.N. personnel on the ground," presumably peacekeeping troops or refugee workers.
Boyd said that the three single-engine, propeller-driven planes flew over the villages of Gladovici and Osatica about five miles southeast of Srebrenica at 5:15 p.m. Bosnian time Saturday. Each dropped three bombs.