NATO sent troops and armored vehicles into Mostar’s streets Saturday after the shooting death of a Croat policeman threatened to restart open conflict in the divided southwestern town.
In a Sarajevo suburb, a member of the NATO force was wounded Saturday - a French soldier injured by a land mine while patrolling a zone separating Muslims from Serbs. He was the seventh casualty since NATO took over from the U.N. peacekeeping force Dec. 20; on Thursday, an Italian became the first NATO soldier wounded by hostile gunfire.
And near Sanski Most, in northwestern Bosnia, British soldiers with the NATO mission fired 62 rounds from automatic weapons after snipers shot at their bunker 20 times in five minutes.
Overall, NATO officials said Saturday, Bosnia’s warring sides are pulling back from front lines mostly on schedule - sometimes even ahead of schedule.
Yet the day’s fighting showed that the hatred that fueled nearly four years of war lives on - or has worsened through cycles of revenge.
In Mostar, where Croats and Muslims technically stopped fighting almost two years ago, a Croat policeman was killed Saturday by gunfire. Local police said it came from the Muslim-controlled eastern side. He was shot three times in the abdomen and legs and died from his wounds at a hospital, said European Union police spokesman Howard Fox.
NATO deployed six armored personnel carriers and some 50 Spanish soldiers to patrol the streets alongside the EU police. Rival Croat and Muslim police were out in force in their respective areas.
Saturday night, grenades were thrown from the Croat-held west toward a Muslim neighborhood, but nobody was hurt and most streets were deserted.
On Thursday night, two off-duty Muslim policemen were seriously wounded by gunfire as they drove along a former front line in Croat-held western Mostar. EU officials said the fire apparently came from the Croat side. On New Year’s Eve, a Muslim man was killed by Croat police after refusing to stop his car.
Hans Koschnick, a German who is the EU’s administrator for Mostar, sent messages to both the Muslim and Croat mayors appealing for peace and restraint, Fox said.
“Things have been very, very tense,” Fox said. “We don’t know what the evening is going to bring.”
On other front lines, NATO officials said withdrawals were going well, and even ahead of schedule in some places.
The first major task of the NATO-led force, which ultimately will number 60,000, is to oversee the withdrawal of Bosnia’s rivals more than a mile from the front lines by Jan. 19. NATO will then police the demilitarized zones.
Brig. Gen. Andrew Cumming, a NATO official in Sarajevo, said that in some instances the parties were “moving far faster than we anticipated.”
In the far north, near the hotly contested Posavina corridor - the only link between Serb holdings in eastern and western Bosnia - there were some difficulties, he said. But he predicted the Jan. 19 deadline would be met.
Cumming also reported that many foreign Islamic fighters who came to help the Muslim-led government army were leaving Bosnia as called for under the peace agreement. The deadline for all foreign fighters to leave is Jan. 19.
“There is evidence that some of them have gone back to wherever they came from. They’ve left this country,” Cumming said.
He estimated about 150 to 200 remain in Bosnia. Unconfirmed estimates at one time put their number at about 900.