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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sarajevo Quiet as Diplomats Step Up Efforts

SARAJEVO -- Bosnian Serbs besieging Sarajevo turned in more guns Monday and U.N. officials reported Sarajevo's quietest weekend of the 22-month-old war, with no reports of people killed or wounded.


Although the guns around Sarajevo were silent for the fifth day, diplomatic activity was intense and tension remained high over NATO's ticking ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to withdraw their heavy weapons by Feb. 20 or be bombed.


U.N. officials said that the two guns which Bosnian Serbs turned over to U.N. control Monday brought the meager total of weapons handed in since Thursday to 28 by the Serbs and 10 by the Bosnian government.


The Bosnian Serbs are estimated to have at least 500 heavy weapons. The Bosnian army has perhaps 50.


The Bosnian Serbs had stopped handing over weapons Saturday, saying that the Bosnian government -- whose forces outnumber the Serbs around Sarajevo by an estimated 3 to 1 -- must pull its infantry back from the front lines.


On Sunday, however, the Serbs resumed handing in guns because the United Nations allowed them to do so at brigade points, and not at the central collection point at Sarajevo airport.


A U.N. peacekeepers' spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Aikman, said U.N. military observers are "in the area" of Serb guns handed over in this way. The Bosnian government says this is not sufficient, because the guns could easily be used again.


The U.N. commander for Bosnia, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Rose, brokered an agreement last Wednesday in which Serbs and government troops would turn their heavy weapons over to U.N. control to demilitarize Sarajevo.


Hours later, NATO threatened to bomb the Bosnian Serb positions if they did not withdraw their heavy weapons 20 kilometers from the city center by midnight Feb. 20.


The United States' special envoy to the Bosnia peace talks, Charles Redman, met Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic at the start of an unusual two-day visit to Sarajevo. Meanwhile, the U.N. commander for Sarajevo met a top Serb commander to discuss demilitarizing the city.


Last Friday, Redman said Washington was getting more involved in the peace process and that the Americans wanted to help the Bosnian government get the peace deal they seek.


The Moslem led government is being offered one-third of Bosnia. It wants ports on the Adriatic Sea and on its northern Sava river border with Croatia, together with better access to Moslem enclaves in eastern Bosnia. It also has floated demands for an entirely new division of Bosnia under which it would acquire more land from both Serbs and Croats.


U.S. willingness to back Bosnian demands could be one element in cooling the government's evident preference for NATO air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs as a way to redress a military and diplomatic imbalance.


The Serbs captured 70 percent of Bosnia after rebelling against a Moslem-Croat vote to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia in spring 1992. The Bosnian Serbs have had a huge advantage in weapons in a war that has killed some 200,000 people.


There were no casualties at all during the weekend, "a very heartening sign," said Aikman.


"It was very quiet overnight in Sarajevo in particular," said Aikman. "The cease-fire is definitely holding."


He reported quiet across most of the country, aside from fierce battles between Croat and Moslem-led government troops around Gornji Vakuf in central Bosnia.


No further fighting was reported around the besieged Moslem enclave of Bihac in northwestern Bosnia. Bosnian leaders called for U.N. action there because it is one of six U.N. designated "safe areas." Intense fighting was reported in the area over the weekend between Serbs and Bosnian army troops.