Some Serb Guns Remain Within Safe Zone
Bosnian Serb commanders dig in their heels on removal of artillery until UN monitoring troops are deployed along the front lines
CRKVINE, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — INTERNATIONAL policy has bypassed this muddy hilltop hamlet overlooking the westernmost Bosnian Serb siege lines around Sarajevo.
Three days ago the Bosnian Serbs were to have met Western demands to withdraw their artillery from a 13-mile zone around the city or place them under United Nations control, but neither has happened in the town of Crkvine, about three miles west of Sarajevo.
Bosnian Serb commanders in this area have refused to remove or hand over their heavy guns until UN cease-fire monitoring troops are deployed along the nearby battle front, the scene of some of the worst fighting in the 22-month siege of Sarajevo.
``If the UN troops actually take up position on the front lines, then we will be willing to move our guns,'' says Col. Vladimir Radojcic, the area's Bosnian Serb commander.
Yasushi Akashi, the UN special representative to former Yugoslavia, and his Bosnia commander, British Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, asserted that the Bosnian Serbs were complying with the NATO demand as he ruled out airstrikes after the expiration of the ultimatum at 1 a.m. on Feb. 21.
But a tour of the 50-mile encirclement of Sarajevo shows the assertion to be only partly true, calling into question the credibility and efficacy of the UN-supervised operation and the chances it can be extended to other Bosnian conflict zones.
In addition to the standoff in Crkvine, Bosnian Serb military trucks were seen dragging, with apparent impunity, heavy mortars or cannon along back roads within the exclusion zone. Tanks were also spotted moving in several locations.
On Tuesday UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) troops blocked Bosnian Serb soldiers from removing four guns from one of the UN-controlled sites in which they agreed to place heavy weaponry.
UN expands collection sites
Meanwhile, UN officials admitted that the number of collection sites, which they originally wanted restricted to Sarajevo airport and then expanded to five and then to eight, was extended to 11 after the NATO deadline expired.
UN spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Aikman yesterday said UN military observers in the hills around Sarajevo are continuing to check out dozens of weapons sites spotted from both the air and by peacekeepers on the ground.
UNPROFOR has still not disclosed how many guns have been placed in the collection sites, how many have been disabled because they were stuck outside the locations in the snow, and how many were withdrawn from the exclusion zone for deployment elsewhere.
None of this detracts from the fact that Mr. Akashi and General Rose have secured and maintained - with the help of the NATO airstrike threat and the deployment of UN peacekeeping troops - the longest cease-fire in two years.
But it may indicate that senior UN officials have been willing to bend to accommodate the Bosnian Serbs, perhaps even to the extent of misleading the Muslim-led Bosnian government and the international community about their compliance.
This apparent discrepancy adds weight to Bosnian government charges that UNPROFOR lacks the toughness needed to accomplish its ultimate aim - lifting the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo.
Long-barreled 100-mm canons; small, mobile 76-mm mountain guns, and stubby mortars sit in back yards or along the dirt track that snakes through the hamlet.
The breaches are well-oiled and protected by canvas covers. Their snouts are still pointed toward Sarajevo. Green ammunition cases are stacked nearby, ready for use.
UN troops of Britain's 2nd Company of the Coldstream Guards arrived Feb. 19 in a half-dozen armored vehicles to take control of the weapons, drawing up in a cluster by the side of the track.
There they have sat ever since, coils of razor wire intended to fence off a defensible weapons collection site lying unused in the mud.
The troops have spent their time lounging in the bright winter sunshine or reading atop their vehicles while their officers try to persuade their Bosnian Serb counterparts to hand over a total of 19 weapons deployed in a one-kilometer-square area (0.4 of a square mile).
``The Serbs have a concern that the Muslims will attack them, and they won't have their artillery. They have a particular concern here because they are so close to the front line,'' explains Maj. Bill Cubbit, the commander of the British unit.
``I've been trying to establish what we interpret differently,'' Major Cubbit says. ``They are talking about monitoring [the weaponry], and I'm talking about [physical] control.''
Despite Rose's vows that his troops would use force to ensure Bosnian Serb compliance with NATO's ultimatum, Cubbit has found himself in a bind.
``The consequences [of using force] for the whole cease-fire would not be worth it when you are still in negotiations,'' he says.
Serbs' `quiet' weapons
For the serious but affable Colonel Radojcic, however, nothing is awry. ``Our artillery,'' he asserts, ``are under the control of UNPROFOR.
``Our weapons are quiet, and we are strictly observing the cease-fire,'' adds the mustachioed officer as he sits among a gaggle of soldiers watching music videos in his command post. ``That is not true for the Muslim side. They violate the agreement by digging trenches.
``The problem is that the front lines are only 50 meters [55 yards] apart. We have asked UNPROFOR to stand between the two sides,'' Radojcic explains.
``We guarantee we will not use our artillery,'' he says. ``Let UNPROFOR guarantee that the Muslims will not attack. Then, we will remove firing pins or whatever.''