NATO and the United Nations Wednesday called off airstrikes against Bosnian Serbs after determining that the rebels had complied with demands for withdrawal of their heavy guns from around this besieged capital.
Halting the aerial bombing campaign takes pressure off the Bosnian Serbs, who in the last 10 days have suffered their greatest territorial losses in 3-1/2 years of war. But it may also clear the way for a cease-fire, U.N. officials said.
About 250 of the more than 300 mortar and artillery pieces that the Serbs had installed in the hills around Sarajevo were removed during the last 72 hours to meet a U.N. deadline that expired Wednesday night, U.N. military spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Vernon said.
“We are happy compliance has been achieved,” Vernon said.
The Serbs are allowed to keep in place mortars under 82 mm and artillery of less than 100 mm.
Another U.N. demand - that its personnel be given unimpeded land and air access to this city - has also been met, Vernon said. For most of their 41-month siege of Sarajevo, the Serbs have routinely blocked roads and subjected U.N. peacekeepers to harassing checkpoints. And they had closed the airport, Sarajevo’s lifeline for humanitarian aid, by shooting at aircraft.
A resumption of NATO airstrikes over Bosnia is “currently not necessary,” said a joint U.N.-NATO statement issued by the United Nations in New York.
Meanwhile, a military offensive by the Bosnian government army and its Croat allies in northern Bosnia appeared to have slowed as Serbs were digging in their defensive lines around the threatened stronghold city of Banja Luka, U.N. officials said. The Bosnian-Croat advance appeared to have stopped near the towns of Prijedor and Sanski Most, both about 25 miles west of Banja Luka, a U.N. military intelligence source said.
In a sweeping, 10-day offensive, the Muslim-led Bosnian government and Croatia have racked up gains now giving them about half of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Concerned that their ongoing peace initiative was endangered by the fighting, U.S. officials on Tuesday sought - and received - assurances that the offensive would stop.
The Bosnian government, in the rare position of having the upper hand in the war, wrote the U.N. Security Council Wednesday demanding demilitarization of Banja Luka. In its letter, the government encouraged Serb civilians to remain and pledged to guarantee their rights and property.