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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Destroys Cache of Munitions

SARAJEVO -- NATO troops began blowing up a cache of hundreds of tons of contraband Bosnian Serb munitions Monday, implementing "Operation Volcano" despite a firestorm of Serb criticism and written threats.

Cloudy, rainy weather delayed the operation by hampering aerial security. But precautions around the demolition site paid off when NATO troops discovered a shepherd wandering near one of the blast areas and took him to safety.

"The first series of three blasts have gone off and another three are scheduled for later today," NATO spokesman Major Brett Boudreau said in Sarajevo.

Boudreau estimated that between 15 and 30 tons of material was destroyed in the three blasts, most of it mines.

NATO expects it will take almost a week to collect and destroy all the munitions found stored in Margetici, near Sokolac east of Sarajevo, on Aug. 5 in violation of last November's Bosnian peace accord.

NATO sources said engineers were burying the material in pits under a meter of earth to force the blast down, thus containing the sound and debris.

Burly French and Italian NATO troops, muscles bulging, spent hours Sunday loading hundreds of boxes of ammunition and mines onto trucks for transport to the demolition pits.

NATO troops upgraded their protective clothing Sunday, because of a threat made in a number of leaflets, written in English and distributed in Sokolac at the weekend.

The commander of NATO-led ground forces in Bosnia, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Walker, met Bosnian Serb acting president Biljana Plavsic in Pale on Sunday.

"Mrs. Plavsic disowned the threats and said they did not represent her government's position," Boudreau explained.

But Boudreau added there had been "a vacuum of cooperation" from the Bosnian Serb Army.

No Serb military representative attended the Plavsic meeting. On Monday morning General Walker received a letter from Bosnian Serb Army Chief of Staff Zdravko Tolimir asking that Operation Volcano be called off.

NATO sources said Walker would reply to the letter but that the destruction of Serb munitions would continue. "I think the best that we can hope for from the Serbs under the circumstances is a compliant silence," said a NATO officer who asked not to be identified.

Under the terms of the Dayton peace agreement, all weapons and ammunition storage sites were supposed to have been declared and submitted for NATO inspection months ago. Having determined that the Margetici site was unauthorized, NATO decided to destroy the contents.

The episode is an embarrassment to the Bosnian Serb army, which has prided itself through war and peace on defying Western military forces whenever and wherever possible.