Berserkistan Navigator Bosnian Serb Tanks Retreat
from NATO Confrontation

By Kurt Schork

NATO SARAJEVO, July 7 (Reuters) - The Bosnian Serb army and NATO late on Saturday peacefully resolved one of the most serious confrontations in months when Serb tanks and armoured transporters returned to an approved storage site. "The situation at Han Pijesak has been defused and the heavy weapons have been returned to the storage site," NATO spokesman Major Brett Boudreau told Reuterss on Sunday. Han Pijesak, about 60 km (40 miles) northeast of Sarajevo, is the military headquarters of the Bosnian Serb army commander, General Ratko Mladic, a man twice indicted for war crimes and wanted for trial by a U.N. tribunal at the Hague.

Manhunt Mladic and Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, also twice indicted, have thwarted the Dayton peace process wherever possible, testing NATO's resolve and that of the international community to try to preserve a separate Bosnian Serb state. A routine NATO helicopter reconnaissance mission on Wednesday revealed several tanks and armoured personnel carriers deployed defensively near Mladic's headquarters.

All the armoured vehicles appeared to be outside a nearby NATO-approved storage site in violation of the Dayton peace agreement, which strictly controls the locations and movement of heavy weapons in Bosnia. A subsequent NATO helicopter overflight on Friday confirmed that the Serb vehicles were illegally deployed. When NATO ordered them to be returned to the storage site the Serbs threatened the NATO helicopter.

"Some junior (Bosnian Serb army) officers overreacted and made some statements... that we interpreted as threats. And of course we don't tolerate that at all," said Lieutenant-General William Carter, chief of staff of NATO forces in Bosnia.

Besides ground units already in the area, NATO ordered up about 20 aircraft including planes capable of suppressing Serb air defences, others with missile-firing capability and Apache attack helicopters. "It was a very aggressive response on our part but we don't intend to tolerate any threats against us," Carter told reporters in Sarajevo on Sunday. NATO's commander in Bosnia, Admiral Leighton Smith, telephoned Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on Friday to seek his help in defusing the situation -- an indication of Milosevic's importance as a guarantor of Bosnian peace.

When a platoon-sized U.S. ground reconnaissance unit went to inspect the storage site on Saturday it found the armoure vehicles had been returned as NATO demanded. A subsequent effort to inspect the Han Pijesak army headquarters where the vehicles were first spotted provoked army protests and later attracted a crowd of angry Serbs civilians. Animated by rumours that NATO troops had come to seize Mladic and take him before the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the crowd threw stones and cursed and jostled the Americans.

In the end the civilians were dispersed by a Bosnian Serb army officer who reassured them that Mladic was not the issue and the inspection was completed. "It was an extremely volatile situation that could have gone badly," Carter said. NATO decided not to seize and destroy the Serb armour although that had been its policy in the past when heavy weapons were discovered violating the Dayton accord. The armour reportedly included at least one T-34 tank, two T-55 tanks and one M-80 armoured personnel carrier.

To learn more...
Berserkistan: Manhunt! How Much Can NATO Do to Capture Mladic, Karadzic?
Berserkistan, June 25 · NATO: World Must Prevent Another Bosnian War

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