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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Planes Strike at Bosnian Serb Targets


BELGRADE -- NATO planes struck twice at targets near the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale in raids 25 minutes apart Thursday, making good on a UN threat to punish the Serbs for shelling the capital, Sarajevo.

The aircraft struck at the Pale suburb of Jahorinski Potok at 4 p.m. and at Ravna Planina at 4.25 p.m., the SRNA news agency said.

NATO's southern command in Naples confirmed the first strike, saying six aircraft, including U.S. warplanes, bombed a Bosnian Serb ammunition depot in response to a request from UN peacekeepers.

"No NATO personnel were injured and all aircraft are returning or have returned to their bases. Initial information indicates the mission was successful," said the statement.

A column of black smoke rose above Jahorinski Potok, but there was no immediate information about casualties. An air-raid warning sounded over Pale, which is the seat of the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb Republic.

In Washington, U.S. President Bill Clinton said he welcomed the NATO raid.

"I welcome the decision of the UN and NATO to launch air strikes today against a Bosnian Serb ammunition site following the violence of the past several days in and around Sarajevo," Clinton said in a statement issued by the White House.

The Bosnian Serb army had ignored an ultimatum from the United Nations to surrender by noon four heavy weapons seized from UN weapons dumps around Sarajevo during the fierce fighting that took place this week with Bosnian government forces. Such weapons are banned from a 20-kilometer zone around the city. The warning was part of a general ultimatum to both Serbs and Sarajevo's defenders to stop using heavy weapons in and around the city.

After the expiry of the deadline, UN special envoy Yasushi Akashi told the Serbs they could expect NATO air strikes against them during the afternoon in a sudden display of UN muscle.

Clinton said the air strikes were evidence of UN and NATO determination and he hoped the action would serve to enhance the ability of their forces to perform missions in the former Yugoslavia.

France's Foreign Ministry said after the strikes that UN peacekeeping forces in former Yugoslavia, led by a Frenchman and including a significant French contingent, were justified in calling for air support in carrying out their mission.

The UN force "is perfectly justified in calling whatever air support is necessary to carry out United Nations resolutions, particularly those concerning zones from which heavy weapons should be excluded and those concerning protection of UN troops," the statement said.

Radovan Karadzic, the Serb leader, was in northern Bosnia until late Wednesday night, and it was unlikely that he was in Pale at the time of the attack.

But the choice of a target so close to his headquarters apparently was intended to send a message to the Bosnian Serb leader that he is vulnerable. Karadzic has been isolated by his former patron, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is considering recognizing Bosnia's prewar borders.

Karadzic warned overnight that the United Nations would be treated as "enemies" in case of air strikes. Last November, NATO jets struck in northwest Bosnia, prompting Serbs to detain hundreds of peacekeepers.

UN peacekeepers on the ground were braced for possible reprisals but spokesmen said their commander, General Rupert Smith, had taken preventive measures for their protection.

The air raid was the first against the Serbs since the November raid on missile batteries around the northwestern Bihac pocket of Bosnia.

An air base on rebel Serb territory in neighboring Croatia was also hit in November after the Serbs used it to bomb civilian targets in Bihac.