In their most massive attack yet on Bosnian Serbs, wave after wave of NATO warplanes bombed Serb targets around Sarajevo early today in retaliation for a marketplace massacre that killed 37 people.
Jets roared over Sarajevo about 2 a.m. (5 p.m. PDT Tuesday), and the first explosions were heard 90 minutes later from the southeast, in the direction of the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale.
Observers in Sarajevo also could see bright flashes and hear explosions from the direction of Vogosca, a Serb-held suburb a few miles north of Sarajevo.
There is a Bosnian Serb munitions factory in the town.
The sky over Vogosca was red and a huge cloud of smoke could be seen in the predawn light. There appeared to be a large fire burning past a frontline hill north of the besieged capital.
President Clinton, vacationing in Jackson Hole, Wyo., called the attack “an appropriate response to the shelling of Sarajevo.”
The Western allies demanded retaliation after U.N. investigators concluded the Serbs were responsible for the mortar attack near a crowded Sarajevo market Monday that killed 37 people.
Flashes of explosives also were seen to the south, and the rumble of artillery could be heard. U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko confirmed that the international rapid reaction force, dug in on Mount Igman southwest of Sarajevo, also was in action.
The rapid reaction force includes French heavy artillery that was used for the first time last week against Bosnian Serb positions.
Serbs responded by opening fire on downtown Sarajevo. Several large impacts were heard in the city center, but the response seemed muted. The government reacted by firing dozens of mortar rounds out of the city toward Serb positions.
NATO spokesman Maj. Panagiotis Theodorakidis said in Naples, Italy, that the attacks had gone “a significant way” toward eliminating Serb ability to bombard Sarajevo.
He said more than 60 NATO aircraft from several countries flew from bases in Italy and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to conduct the strike.
He said the targets included air defense sites, missile sites and communications facilities.
NATO officials in Brussels said initial assessments “suggest many targets had been seriously damaged or destroyed.”
But a senior U.S. Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said more strikes were planned.
This morning’s attacks were “Round One,” he said.
“We hope that this operation will also demonstrate to the Bosnian Serbs the futility of further military actions,” said a statement released in Brussels, Belgium, by NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes.
Claes said the attack was approved jointly by Gen. Bernard Janvier of France, the U.N. commander in former Yugoslavia, and U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith, NATO’s southern Europe commander.
Russian officials had argued against any attack.
The NATO attack was certain to alienate the Serbs, who peace mediators say have to make concessions before any deal to end the war would work.
To prevent the Serbs from retaliating by taking peacekeepers hostage as they did after previous airstrikes, the United Nations pulled its troops out of Serb-held areas.
The last British peacekeepers hastily left the isolated eastern pocket of Gorazde on Monday night, and U.N. vehicles were forbidden from traveling in or out of Sarajevo on Tuesday.
Officials said the only peacekeepers remaining on Serb-held territory were about 400 Russians, who were thought unlikely to be taken hostage because of Moscow’s traditional ties to the Serbs.
The U.S. Navy said the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was diverted Tuesday to the Adriatic Sea at the request of Adm. Smith.
Tuesday, another mortar killed a 4-year-old girl outside a Sarajevo apartment building and wounded two friends with her, even as bodies shattered in Monday’s attack lay at the city’s morgue to await burial.
“Yesterday, the ‘safe area’ of Sarajevo became a killing field,” U.N. spokesman Ivanko said.
The scene of the massacre “was simply a place of markets, shops and cafes where people were busy enjoying the treacherous calm,” Ivanko said.
A simple wooden table overflowed with flowers at the site of Monday’s blast.
A one-line message, wrapped in plastic against the rain, said it was “the last salute to cherished Sarajevans.”
Hospital officials said a 37th victim died Tuesday afternoon.
Bosnian Serbs have accused the Muslim-led government of shelling its own people to create an outcry against the Serbs.
U.N. spokesman Ivanko, however, said an analysis showed “without any reasonable doubt” that Bosnian Serbs were responsible for the “unprovoked and barbaric” blast.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, head of the American delegation in Paris meeting for peace talks, was to travel to Belgrade, the Serbian capital, to meet with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
Serb-led Yugoslavia has endured more than three years of U.N. sanctions for inciting Serb rebellions in Bosnia and Croatia that have left more than 200,000 people dead or missing.
MEMO: Changed from the Idaho edition.