SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The Bosnian Serb army has complied with a NATO ultimatum for the withdrawal of its heavy weapons beyond 20 kilometers from Gorazde, a United Nations spokesman said early Wednesday.
Cmdr. Eric Chaperon added that the "logical conclusion" was that there would be no NATO air strikes. These had been threatened by NATO in the event that Serbian heavy weapons remained within 20 kilometers, or 12.4 miles, of Gorazde's city center at 2:01 a.m. today (8:01 p.m. Tuesday, EDT).
A spokesman for NATO's southern command said it will carry out "a robust reconnaissance" after daylight to make sure of compliance. NATO warned that it remained ready to deliver air strikes if violations of the exclusion zone are found or if the Bosnian Serbs conduct attacks.
"Exclusion zones" also went into effect around four other Bosnian "safe area" towns -- Tuzla, Zepa, Srebrenica and Bihac. But with a new diplomatic initiative -- begun Monday by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations to end the two-year Bosnian war -- the use of NATO force had appeared unlikely.
Any major NATO bombardment is viewed by United Nations officials here as certain to lead the Bosnian Serbs to walk away from any peace talks. There is widespread concern that an attack could lead to Serbian reprisals against the 16,000 U.N. personnel in Bosnia. As a result, enforcement of compliance with NATO ultimatums has been fairly loose.
U.N. officials conceded that some Serbian heavy weapons may still be within the exclusion zone at Gorazde but insisted that the Serbs had removed most of them.
"We are not going to start a war for one broken-down tank," said Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, the U.N. commander in Bosnia, who spent most of yesterday in Brussels briefing NATO ambassadors.
After a three-week Serbian assault on Gorazde, the U.N.-designated safe area was relatively quiet yesterday, with occasional small arms fire. About 400 U.N. troops have deployed in the mainly Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia to monitor the cease-fire and the Serbian withdrawal.
Commander Chaperon said that a group of U.N. military monitors inspecting sites on the east bank of the Drina River in Gorazde previously occupied by the Bosnian Serb forces had come under "sustained attack" from Muslim soldiers in Gorazde. "A firm protest has been launched with the Bosnian authorities," he said.
General Rose's meeting in Brussels was organized partly to avoid a repeat of the row that erupted Saturday when the alliance wanted to bomb the Serbs for failing to heed an earlier ultimatum, but was rebuffed by the top U.N. official here, Yasushi Akashi.
After General Rose returned to Sarajevo yesterday, a U.N. official said there was complete agreement now on a rigorous interpretation of the deadline. "The ultimatum is watertight," said Michael Williams, the spokesman for Mr. Akashi.
After bombing earlier this month failed to stop the Serbian attack, NATO had prepared a far more extensive list of potential targets for any air strikes yesterday. These included tanks, artillery, and fuel and munitions dumps.
But with several hundred U.N. troops now in Gorazde, any bombing mission had become more complex than it was Saturday, when the soldiers had not yet deployed.