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Nine are killed in mortar, sniper attacks in downtown Sarajevo


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Nine people, including four children who had ventured outdoors to play, were killed yesterday in mortar and sniper attacks on a city desperate to free itself from 38 months of Bosnian Serb siege.

Six people were killed when a shell slammed into a downtown neighborhood near the central market, which had been crowded earlier in the day with shoppers enjoying a respite from fighting and rainstorms.

Among the dead there were three children, including two little girls in summer dresses.

A jump rope lay in a pool of blood at the grassy scene.

Three people were killed elsewhere, including a 16-year-old killed by a shell in a Sarajevo suburb and a young man who was shot by a sniper as he rode his bicycle past French U.N. peacekeepers in a notorious sniper area near the presidency building.

In addition to the nine killed yesterday, 30 were wounded, bringing the toll of civilian casualties in the capital to more than 50 dead and 180 injured in the last nine days, according to government statistics.

Bosnian Serb attacks on civilians intensified 10 days ago in retaliation for a government army offensive launched to relieve the siege of Sarajevo. The government campaign made modest gains, but Serbs now claim to have recaptured lost territory.

Neither side's assertions can be verified, but the civilian toll in Sarajevo is clear.

"The indiscriminate bombing of cities is unacceptable," an international humanitarian aid official said yesterday.

"We are trapped in a terrible game: The military makes gains, the civilians pay."

In the last 10 days, Bosnian Serbs have shelled hospitals, apartment buildings and lines of people waiting for water.

Lining up for water has become a Sarajevo ritual ever since the Serbs cut off electricity, water and gas to the city more than a month ago.

Another ritual is for children to play in basements and shelters, safe from the bombings and gunfire. But yesterday, sunshine broke out after several gray, cold days, and the fighting seemed to have subsided. Some children had ventured outside to play.

The escalation of attacks on the city also coincided with the decision by the U.N. peacekeeping force to relinquish heavy weapons to the Bosnian Serbs.

The weapons had been confiscated from the Serbs and warehoused as part of a plan to protect Sarajevo by creating a 12-mile weapons-exclusion zone around the city.

el,.5l But the United Nations gave up on the effort after the Serbs took more than 370 peacekeepers hostage last month.

The weapons-exclusion zone was created after a 1994 incident similar to yesterday's attack when a mortar round hit a marketplace, killing 68 people.

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