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Bosnian Claim of Serbs’ Bombing Muslim Bridge Questioned

<i> from Associated Press</i>

A NATO jet swooped over a besieged northern town Sunday after Bosnian state radio claimed Serbian warplanes destroyed a bridge in an attack similar to the one that provoked NATO retaliation.

With Bosnian Serb troops barring access to Maglaj, there was no way for NATO or U.N. officials to visit the site to check the claim that planes attacked the Muslim-held town about 40 miles north of Sarajevo. But officers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization raised questions about the report.

Squadron Leader John Jeffery, a NATO spokesman in Naples, Italy, said early warning aircraft did not detect any air attack on Maglaj. “If we had, we would have taken action,” he said.

Such a raid would be a flagrant violation of the “no-fly” zone imposed by the U.N. Security Council over Bosnia. It would also be a challenge to NATO, which has been patrolling the zone since April and has begun showing a new resolve to act forcibly against warring parties in the former Yugoslav state.

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A week ago, two U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters shot down four Bosnian Serb fighter-bombers in central Bosnia that U.N. officials said were attacking Bosnian government targets.

A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said visibility was too poor when the two bombing runs reportedly took place for accurate attacks on a bridge.

NATO reconnaissance aircraft also flew over the area around the time the second bombing run was reported but saw nothing, he said.

Bosnian Serbs ridiculed the Muslim-led government’s claim, accusing the Bosnian army of faking an air strike.

“There have been no (air) bombardments of Maglaj,” said a statement from the Bosnian Serb military in Banja Luka. “The so-called Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, following its old recipe, sets fire to heaps of old tires, wishing to create an impression of bombardment of the town.”

Bosnian radio and neighboring Croatia’s HINA news agency said Serbian planes targeted Maglaj’s only bridge, which spans the Bosna River, and destroyed it. HINA said its story was based on reports from ham radio operators in Maglaj.

Gen. Rasim Delic, commander of the Bosnian army, reported the alleged bombing to Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, and demanded “more effective” NATO action. Bosnian radio said Serbian artillery also shelled Maglaj after the air attack.

With the nearly 4-week-old Sarajevo cease-fire between Bosnian Serbs and Muslim-led government forces under strain, the U.N. chief representative in the former Yugoslav federation, Yasushi Akashi, flew to Sarajevo for talks.

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He met with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Pale east of Sarajevo and later in the capital with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.

Akashi said he made progress toward reopening Tuzla’s airport, which has been kept closed for much of the nearly 2-year-old war by shelling from Bosnian Serb artillery.


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