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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Both Sides Accused in Moslem, Serb Attack

SARAJEVO -- The commander of NATO ground forces in Bosnia accused both Moslems and Serbs on Friday of being armed in an incident that sparked the worst violence since the Dayton peace agreement was signed in December.

General Sir Michael Walker was due to meet Bosnia's Moslem President Alija Izetbegovic to discuss Thursday's tense confrontation between NATO troops and Serb police.

Initial reports said the crisis began when Serb police attacked a group of Moslems trying to repair their war-damaged homes in Mahala -- a village now in Serb territory, inside the de-militarized strip known as the "zone of separation."

But after investigating the incident, NATO officers said both the Moslems and Serbs had brought weapons into the village, violating one of the key military terms of the Dayton peace accord.

"Two lots of weapons were confiscated from the zone of separation," said Walker.

"One lot were the pistols that we confiscated from the [Bosnian Serb] police which were given to [Bosnian Serb President Biljana] Plavsic as a demonstration of what we were talking about."

"The other set of weapons I will give to the leadership of the [Moslem-led] Bosnian government to make the same point in their case."

But Walker insisted that while both sides had broken the rules, "the side which came off worst in this case is undoubtedly the Republika Srpska [Bosnian Serb Republic]."

In a dramatic gesture, Walker entered the meeting with Plavsic late Thursday, accompanied by an aide carrying a box of the guns his troops had seized from Serb police, after they attacked Moslems trying to return to Mahala.

Bosnian Serb policemen beat the Moslems with clubs and when gunfire erupted, NATO troops intervened, detaining 65 Serb policemen inside a cordon of armored vehicles and combat troops, alliance spokesmen said.

A crowd of 600 Bosnian Serbs and some Serb policemen, angered by NATO's action in Mahala, later blockaded six UN officials in their office in the nearby town of Zvornik.

The stand-off was brought to an end when Walker flew to Mahala with a Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry official, who told his men to cooperate with NATO.

A short time later, NATO released the Serb police, and the crowd in Zvornik dispersed to let the UN officials out.

U.S. General George Casey said the Moslems had a right to return to their homes in Mahala and the inter-entity boundary line was "not an international border."

"What we've agreed to now is a seven-day joint patrolling of the area until we resolve the issue."

The violence underscored steadily rising tensions across Bosnia in the run-up to general elections scheduled for Sept. 14.

Western officials have accused nationalist Serb, Croat and Moslem authorities of creating an atmosphere of political violence and intimidation before the polls in which voters will elect a three-member presidency and parliament for a loose union governing Serb and Moslem-Croat entities.