NATO fighter planes started patrolling Bosnian skies yesterday to enforce a no-fly zone despite Serb warnings that the operation would intensify the civil war in the former Yugoslav republic.
United States, French, and Dutch planes are taking part in the first Western military intervention in former Yugoslavia, called Operation Deny Flight, with orders to shoot down Serb or other intruders in Bosnian airspace if they ignore warnings to leave.
United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia say the zone has been violated more than 500 times since it was ordered by the UN last October.
The NATO planes are flying from air bases in northern Italy and from US aircraft carriers in the Adriatic Sea.
The operation marks the first Western military intervention since fighting first broke out in former Yugoslav territories nearly two years ago.It is the first mission in a combat zone for NATO since the alliance was founded in 1949.
Bosnian Serb leaders condemned the operation. "This is a very risky decision and a very risky operation," Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' political leader, told Reuters Television.
Meanwhile, talks between rival Muslim and Serb military chiefs at Sarajevo airport failed yesterday when the Muslim military commander, Sefer Halilovic, stayed away.
Muslim military leaders had earlier said that their attendance would depend on whether a cease-fire, called on Saturday, held around the town of Srebrenica which has been besieged by the Serbs for the past year.
The Bosnians accused the Serbs of breaching the cease-fire around Srebrenica although United Nations peacekeeping officials disputed the Bosnian account and said the town was quiet.