BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
NATO warplanes, most of them from U.S. forces, resumed bombing raids September 5 against positions held by Serb troops loyal to Belgrade. U.S. officials said they will broaden the air strikes near Sarajevo and other cities in Bosnia substantially beyond those of the previous week, using vastly increased firepower.
The military action, spearheaded by Washington in order to expand its influence in the region, began August 29. The U.S. government is bent on imposing a "peace plan" that would set the partition of Bosnia in stone. The plan could require 25,000 ground troops from the United States to enforce it, as part of an imperialist occupation force of 50,000.
Some 60 combat aircraft flew more than 1,000 sorties in the first 50 hours of the bombing operation. NATO officials suspended the raids September 1, giving Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the main rightist Serb leaders in Bosnia, three days to withdraw heavy weapons from around Sarajevo and accept a cease-fire.
In a message to former U.S. president James Carter, Karadzic said he accepted NATO's demands. Mladic, however, in a letter to Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier, the UN commander in the former Yugoslavia, stated, "No one, not even myself has the right to order the withdrawal." As the September 4 deadline passed, only a few pieces of artillery had been removed from the hills around Sarajevo.
Mladic maintained his defiant stance. "If you bomb us, we will defend ourselves. The more they bombard us, the stronger we are," he told Reuter television in Pale, his stronghold near Sarajevo, just before the bombing resumed.
Fighter bombers from the NATO base in Aviano, Italy, and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt off the Bosnian coast began pounding what NATO officials described as military targets, not only in Lukavica and other suburbs of the Bosnian capital, but several other towns as far away as the area of Tuzla in northeastern Bosnia. Larger U.S. aircraft, AC-130 gunships, were used September 6 for the first time. British gunners from the UN Rapid Reaction Force on Mt. Ingman outside Sarajevo joined the fray, firing dozens of cannon rounds per day at positions held by Mladic's army.
During the first two days of the renewed bombing raids, no NATO losses were reported. Returning U.S., French, Dutch, and British pilots said they encountered only light antiaircraft fire. At the same time, Karadzic's troops pumped dozens of artillery shells into central Sarajevo, wounding several people.
Bosnian Serb officials say non-military casualties are increasing as a result of the NATO raids, including three civilians wounded and one killed in the community of Hresa, near Sarajevo. Slavko Zdrale, a medical doctor at a hospital in Lukavica, told the New York Times September 5 that three patients and two nurses were wounded by a bomb that landed in front of the building. Another rocket fired by U.S. planes destroyed a large underground water storage tank that provided water for this hospital and several thousand homes.
U.S. president Bill Clinton, British prime minister John Major, and French president Jacques Chirac all lent full support to the renewed NATO bombing. Chirac even tried to take credit for the assault, a stance that underscored the tensions and rivalry between the imperialist allies. "It was probably me who brought about a general consensus for a strong military response," he said.
German government officials have been more cautious in their attitude toward the NATO bombings. "Bonn is anxious that Bosnian government forces do not use the NATO air strikes as an opportunity to launch their own attacks against the Bosnian Serbs, nor postpone participation in any peace talks," the Financial Times of London reported. German chancellor Helmut Kohl visited Moscow September 2 and held talks with Russian president Boris Yeltsin on the conflict in the Balkans.
Subsequently, the Russian government, sharpening the tone of its earlier protests against the NATO offensive, said it "resolutely condemned" the resumption of air strikes.
Washington is using its military might in Bosnia to force the warring regimes in the former Yugoslav republics to accept a version of its "peace plan." U.S. assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke has continued negotiations with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade.
Milosevic's regime is the main culprit in the drive to carve up Bosnia's land and resources. He is attempting to broker a deal with U.S. imperialism in the name of the Bosnian Serbs. Milosevic has spoken favorably of the U.S. proposal of granting control of 49 percent of Bosnian territory to his allies and 51 percent to what is termed a Muslim-Croat federation. At the same time, Milosevic is planning to present demands such as widening the strategic northern land corridor that joins Serb-held territory in eastern and western Bosnia, the partition of Sarajevo, and access to the Adriatic sea.
The Bosnian government, on the other hand, has rejected several of the U.S. proposals. Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic held talks September 4 with Richard Holbrooke and Turkish officials in Istanbul. Izetbegovic said his government would not agree to the U.S. suggestion for a widening of a corridor linking Serbia with territory held by Karadzic's forces in Bosnia. He also ruled out Washington's proposal that Bosnian territory held by Belgrade's allies should be allowed to have confederal relations with Serbia.
"We will never accept any kind of Serbian republic or confederation," said the Bosnian president. He also stated that his government will not reconcile itself with the loss of Zepa and Srebrenica, majority-Muslim cities that were overrun by Karadzic's forces in July.
After taking those cities, Karadzic's troops carried out a wave of "ethnic cleansing," expelling 55,000 Muslims from their homes in eastern Bosnia.
In early August, the Croatian army with 100,000 men backed by tanks, warplanes, artillery, and helicopters blitzed through the Croatian region of Krajina, capturing the territory from pro-Belgrade troops in less than a week. During this assault, carried out with the blessing of Washington and Bonn, Croatian troops expelled 150,000 Serbs, who fled to refugee camps inside Serbia. On May 1, Zagreb had captured Western Slavonia, "ethnically cleansing" it of thousands of Serbs. These military victories have left only Eastern Slavonia, a sliver of Croatian territory adjacent to Serbia, under Belgrade's control.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home