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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.N. Requests 3,000 More Troops For Sarajevo

SARAJEVO -- U.N. peacekeepers are seeking up to 3,000 extra troops to help demilitarize Sarajevo but are also preparing for possible air strikes against besieging Serbs, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday.

The U.N. Protection Force has asked for the reinforcements to consolidate the six-day-old cease-fire in the city, agreed as the first step in a disengagement process for Sarajevo.

Colonel Bill Aikman, a U.N. spokesman, confirmed the "ball-park" figure for the extra troops.

But European countries reacted coolly to the request Wednesday.

France, which has the largest contingent of troops in the former Yugoslavia with 6,000 men, refused outright.

"We have no plans to put more personnel at the disposal of the United Nations," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Richard Duque told reporters in France.

Asked whether French troops currently deployed in Croatia could be moved into Bosnia, Duque said that no such changes were planned.

In Britain, Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd said that, with 2,500 troops already in Bosnia, the country was doing its fair share.

According to Aikman, however, French troops have already agreed to supply two artillery-located radar systems, due here in two days, and Britain is preparing to deploy similar equipment.

NATO has threatened to unleash air attacks against Serb gun positions surrounding Sarajevo unless they withdraw their heavy weapons or hand them over to U.N. control by Sunday midnight.

U.N. officials here have said radar monitoring of Serb guns in the hills around Sarajevo, backed by the threat of air strikes, will be enough to ensure they stay silent.

Aikman confirmed the presence in Sarajevo of forward air controllers who will be needed for any air strikes.

"Certainly we have forward air controllers deployed," he said, adding: "we have them here in the city."

The U.N. confirmation that its forces are preparing for possible air strikes comes despite optimism expressed by its senior officers that the early stages of demilitarization of the battered city were progressing well.

NATO ambassadors in Brussels said Wednesday that they would not extend the weapons deadline on the Bosnian Serbs who have been besieging Sarajevo for 22 months.

The ultimatum was issued after international outrage at the killing of 68 people in a mortar attack on Sarajevo street market 11 days ago.

Both sides denied responsibility and the United Nations, after a detailed investigation, said Wednesday said there was not enough evidence to establish who fired the mortar bomb.

Since the attack, Sarajevo has experienced a period of relative calm and the city has taken on the semblance of normal life with children playing and housewives doing their washing outside.

But the calm was briefly broken Wednesday when a Serb sniper shot a Moslem civilian dead in the most serious violation of the cease-fire. It was the second war death since the U.N.-brokered truce was agreed.

The U.N. appeal for reinforcements came as Russia, fearing an angry backlash at home, refused a U.N. request to move some of its peacekeeping troops in Croatia to Bosnian hotspots.

But Aikman said there were enough forces on hand already to monitor the cease-fire in the city.

"We would be able to adequately monitor the cease-fire, but you have to remember our first duty is to deliver humanitarian aid. Sooner or later the system is going to break down."

The extra troops are needed to buttress the truce, to try to demilitarize Sarajevo and even begin to extend the process elsewhere in Bosnia, he said.

NATO headquarters in Naples has assembled the biggest collection of allied air power since the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq at bases in Italy and on aircraft carriers in the Adriatic, with more than 170 combat planes deployed.

NATO has also reserved the right to attack ammunition dumps, command posts and other places which support any heavy weapons remaining in the area.

On the battlefront, Aikman said fighting flared on Tuesday in northwest Bosnia, with Bosnian Serb forces shelling villages near the town of Bihac.

Moslem-controlled Sarajevo radio said Bosnian Croat forces had fired on the center of Gornji Vakuf in central Bosnia.