SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The fighting in northwestern Bosnia appeared to subside yesterday, lifting hopes that a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect three days ago under a U.S.-brokered peace plan may finally be taking hold in the region, according to U.N. and NATO officials.
"It looks like the Bosnian government has finally gotten the message that it is time to stop," a senior Western military official said. "The fighting has definitely died down. We hope that it will stop completely and we can get on with the task of establishing the peace."
The Bosnian government said it had halted its military activity in the northwest amid indications that the Serbian leadership in Belgrade was preparing to intervene in the fighting.
Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic informed the U.N. commander in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, yesterday that large numbers of weapons and bus loads of troops had crossed from Serbia into Bosnia over the past few days.
And Bosnian government officials said the threat of intervention by Belgrade, which could not be independently confirmed, had led to a call along the Bosnian front to stop all military activity.
U.N. officials indirectly blamed the Bosnian government for failing to honor the cease-fire, which went into effect Thursday.
Heavy shelling decreased yesterday, and it appeared that Bosnian army troops were building defensive positions to keep recent gains, U.N. officials said.
U.N. officials, who sent observers to the Bosnian Serb front lines yesterday, warned the Bosnian leadership that continued military activity could scuttle the cease-fire and that the Muslim-led government would be blamed for failing to abide by the truce.
Lt. Col. Chris Vernon, a U.N. spokesman, said that if the Bosnian government did not soon permit U.N. monitors to go to the front, "People will conclude that you are not adhering to the cease-fire."
Bosnian Serb leaders, seething over the Bosnian government's continued attacks, threatened to withdraw from the peace effort unless the fighting ended. They have called on NATO forces to carry out air strikes against the Bosnian army to halt the offensive.
But the Bosnian Serb Parliament, meeting yesterday, said it would continue to honor the cease-fire agreement and would send representatives to the coming peace talks.
Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with Bosnian government officials yesterday in Sarajevo and said that NATO air strikes remained an option to enforce the truce. So far, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has targeted only Bosnian Serb forces.
"I think that we have said all along that air strikes remain on the table as far as insuring that the U.N. Security Council resolutions are in full force," General Shalikashvili said. "I think any fighting is a serious threat to the cease-fire."
U.N. officials said that peacekeepers had no authority to enforce the cease-fire, but that threats to the peacekeepers or to U.N.-designated "safe areas" could trigger a response from NATO.
The last few days of fighting have seen thousands of destitute families take to the roads of Bosnia in horse-drawn carts or on tractors.
As many as 50,000 Bosnian Serb civilians were packing roads heading toward Banja Luka, the Serbian stronghold, officials said. The United Nations said it may begin flying food to Banja Luka.