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Nato Troops Inch Way Toward Victims

Inching through an area laced with mines, NATO soldiers reached the wreckage of a British armored vehicle on Monday and began the delicate operation of retrieving three soldiers killed by a mine.

Explosives experts, clad in protective gear from head to toe, began at dawn to create a path to the wrecked vehicle in the central town of Mrkonjic Grad. It took them more than 11 hours to make it to the burned husk of the 8-ton Spartan armored personnel carrier.

“They have confirmed that the individuals are dead,” said Maj. Stephen Kilpatrick, a NATO spokesman in the central town of Gornji Vakuf, 45 miles southeast.

The explosion Sunday - and the cautious recovery operation - point out the dangers for the NATO-led peace-enforcement mission. NATO officials say not more than 30 percent of the estimated 6 million land mines in Bosnia and Croatia have been mapped.

Earlier reconnaissance missions had declared the area to be free of mines, said Maj. Carol Haig, a spokeswoman for the British forces in Gornji Vakuf.

The British soldiers killed were all with the Light Dragoons, based in Germany. Their deaths brought to seven the number of soldiers killed in accidents in the NATO-led mission since the deployment began in December.

The head engineer of the NATO mission, British Brig. Gen. John Moore-Bick, said mines were scattered across nearly every part of Bosnia - sometimes homemade explosives packed with nails or bolts placed by people trying to protect their homes.

Other perils face the NATO troops. An American soldier was grazed by sniper fire Sunday in a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo, where French soldiers had come under fire the day before.

The United Nations plans to increase its international police force in the suburb from 40 to 60, said U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko.

Some 15,000 Serbs - about a quarter of Sarajevo’s Serb residents - have fled their neighborhoods, which are to come under the control of the Muslim-led government in March, Ivanko said. He said there are indications more will leave.

Many Serbs are afraid the Muslim-led government will seek revenge for the Serbs’ 3-1/2-year siege of the capital.

In the Serb suburb of Grbavica, Milos Spajic said he and others were moving out all but the essentials and would wait to see what would happen. He said he feared for his safety if the government takes over.

“Nobody here wants to leave, but we will if we have to,” said Spajic, 47, who was loading up a truck with belongings.

In another sign of rough going for the outsiders attempting to maintain Bosnia’s fragile peace, Muslim refugees demanding news about missing families attacked Red Cross and U.N. offices.

In the northern city of Tuzla, hundreds of refugees ransacked the Red Cross building, smashing all its windows, and blocked traffic and pounded on cars outside the U.N. offices in a protest to draw attention to missing family members.

Two people were injured in the rioting, Tuzla hospital officials said.

The demonstrators accused international officials of forgetting the people who disappeared from Srebrenica and other eastern Bosnian areas that fell to Bosnia Serb forces over the summer.

The International Red Cross, which oversees prisoner releases, blamed “aggressive and irresponsible” statements by the Bosnian government for inflaming the protests.

Suhreta Mujic, 48, who lost her brother, husband and two sons in Srebrenica, said the aid workers got off easy.

“Everybody is guilty, foreigners as well as locals,” she said. “Nobody wanted to help us before and nobody wants to help us now.”