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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Ultimatum Looms for Serbs

SARAJEVO -- Bosnian Serbs were given a stern new warning Tuesday to speed their withdrawal of heavy guns from around Gorazde but insisted that they have already completed their pullback ahead of NATO's deadline. The Bosnian Serb army said it had completed its withdrawal ahead of a NATO deadline of 0001 GMT on Wednesday but United Nations officials said there was no proof of this. The UN said the battered UN Gorazde "safe area" for Moslems in Bosnia was quiet and Serb forces were withdrawing slowly but steadily. NATO sources in Brussels said the alliance now looks unlikely to launch air strikes even if the Serbs fail to meet the deadline -- providing weapons did not present a direct threat to Gorazde. NATO has ordered the Serbs to pull all of their heavy weapons out of a 20-kilometer exclusion zone around Gorazde or face massive air attacks. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on Tuesday called on the Serbs to do more saying: "There's been some movement but not enough yet." A UN peacekeeping force spokesman also warned: "The deadline of 0001 GMT is very, very firm." The NATO ultimatum demands the Serbs to withdraw their tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons at least 20 kilometers from the town. "Units of the Bosnian Serb army have withdrawn three kilometers from the center of Gorazde and heavy artillery to 20 kilometers from the town," the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA said, quoting a statement from the army. An UNPROFOR spokesman in Sarajevo said: "At this moment we are not able to confirm this." UN spokesman Eric Chaperon said the Serbs had withdrawn a "significant part of weapons." He said there were still some Serbs soldiers within the three-kilometer limit. "They are trying to withdraw but it is not easy as you might believe. They have to withdraw under UNPROFOR protection." Yugoslavia's Tanjug news agency, quoting the Bosnian Serb army command, said Tuesday that Moslem fighters in Gorazde were firing at withdrawing Serbs forces "over the heads of the UN peacekeepers." It said one Serb soldier talking to UN officers was killed in the village of Kazagichi on Monday afternoon. The NATO ultimatum halted a fierce three-week Serb offensive on Gorazde's 60,000 population which killed more than 700 people and wounded close to 2,000. The United Nations has told NATO it will not block air strikes if the Serbs do not meet the deadline, although attacks would expose 13,000 UN peacekeeping troops on the ground. Serb forces reacted with fury to two limited NATO air attacks outside Gorazde on April 10 and 11 and intensified their onslaught on the town, an important communications link in eastern Bosnia.