Hours after the Bosnian Serb leader urged an end to three years of fighting and called for immediate peace talks Saturday, Serb gunners launched fierce artillery attacks on government-held towns.
Radovan Karadzic had coupled his peace plea with new threats to destroy the government army that has pressed punishing offensives in north and central Bosnia.
With Serb artillery shells raining on towns in several parts of Bosnia, his appeal may have been just a maneuver to divert attention from a big counterattack.
New battlefronts also opened in other areas, and the capital of Sarajevo experienced the most intense artillery and small-arms exchanges in recent months.
The fighting was the worst since a nowshattered truce took effect Jan. 1. It was supposed to expire May 1.
Indicating he’d prefer talks with the Muslim-led Bosnian government without foreign mediation, Karadzic issued a “last call” for “immediate direct talks on peace, with cessation of all offensives,” according to the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA.
Belgrade’s independent Studio B TV quoted him as saying Friday night that he had met with international negotiators and was ready to compromise.
Bosnian Serbs have taken 70 percent of Bosnia since rebelling against the republic’s 1992 decision to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. They have repeatedly rejected an international peace plan that calls on them to give up about a third of the land they hold.
But fierce Serb artillery appeared to belie Karadzic’s peace initiative.
U.N. officials said artillery or mortar fire from Serb positions hit the Muslim eastern section of Mostar in southwest Bosnia, killing a child and wounding six other civilians.
Bosnian television reported that dozens of people had been wounded and several killed in a heavy artillery attack on the eastern town of Gorazde.
U.N. officials said NATO jets flew over Gorazde apparently to deter further Serb attacks.
Bosnian TV also reported Serb shelling of several other government-held cities and towns, including Velika Kladusa in the northwest Bihac pocket and Gracanica and Tuzla in north-central Bosnia.
Karadzic had called for a return to the battle lines of Dec. 23, when the warring sides agreed to a cease-fire negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter.