Ifor threatens retaliation if attacks continue

 

A FRENCH aircraft was hit by small arms fire yesterday as it came in to land at Sarajevo airport, prompting an angry response from the Nato led Implementation Force (Ifor).

Ifor threatened tougher retaliation against any future attacks.

The French Falcon 50 executive jet was hit during its final approach to Sarajevo airport, in the latest in a series of shooting incidents involving Nato forces.

There were no injuries among the military personnel on board, but the rising number of incidents involving aircraft since the Implementation Force began its operation in Bosnia last month is starting to cause intense irritation, officials said.

A Nato spokesman, Lieut Col Richard Pernod, said the plane had not been directly targeted, but was hit in fire let off to mark the Orthodox Christmas.

The incident remains the fourth involving aircraft at Sarajevo airport, nonetheless, and a Nato commander warned the warring factions that any attack on Ifor troops could trigger a powerful response. Unlike the UN peacekeeping force, the Nato peace enforcement troops have flexible rules of engagement.

On Saturday, British troops on patrol in the Sanski Most area returned fire after being targeted by suspected Serb forces. And shots coming from the notorious "Sniper Alley" in Sarajevo forced a French armoured vehicle into retaliatory fire.

But there has been no response to the attacks on the aircraft so far, with one Nato official commenting that returning fire in such circumstances posed difficulties: "There are technical difficulties in terms of collateral damage. You cannot indiscriminately fire into an area where you know there are civilians."

But he added that the fuse was getting shorter and the belligerents would be the losers if Nato troops continued to be targeted.

In the southern city of Mostar, meanwhile, Nato troops maintained their frontline patrol yesterday after a series of clashes between Muslims and Croats.

Mr Hans Koschnik, the city's EU administrator, warned that the situation could quickly become "catastrophic" if nothing is done to calm tensions, which remained high a day after the fatal shooting of a Bosnian Croat policeman.

Saturday's incident, in which the Croatian policeman died of his injuries, was the third in less than a week involving the city's former rivals. On Thursday, two Bosnian government policemen on patrol in a car were sprayed with machine gun fire from the Croat sector. On Tuesday a Muslim youth was shot dead by Bosnian Croat police after he failed to stop at their checkpoint.

Mostar, divided by bitter fighting in 1993 between the city's Muslims and Croats, came under EU administration in 1994 following the creation of the US brokered Muslim Croat federation.