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Serb fighters battled Muslim defenders of Sarajevo with artillery, mortars and machine guns Monday, frustrating efforts to start airlifting food to residents threatened by starvation.

At least seven people were reported killed and dozens injured.The United Nations was continuing to seek a cease-fire to enable its peacekeepers to open the airport and bring in relief supplies. The city of 300,000 is cut off by Serb irregulars who hold positions in the nearby hills.

Edis Mesihovic of the official BH news agency, reached by telephone from Belgrade, said three major explosions shook central Sarajevo at midday. He said the first blast occurred near the National Bank and that people who had been standing in line to get money were among the injured.

Three people were reported killed and 35 were taken to hospitals for injuries suffered in the explosion near the bank, Mesihovic said. Eleven other people reportedly were taken to hospitals because of the two other blasts, which hit close to the Bosnian presidency building.

A doctor at one hospital said four dead and 25 wounded, including three children, were brought in, apparently victims of Serb shelling.

Serbs, who make up about one-third of Bosnia's 4.3 million people, want to carve out a separate Serb state that would keep links with the new Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, whose army has backed the Bosnian Serbs.

The Bosnian government claimed Sunday that 40,000 people had been killed since fighting began after the majority Muslims and Croats voted to secede from Yugoslavia on Feb. 29. The BH news agency said most of the deaths were attributed to massacres by Serb irregulars opposed to independence.

The death count was impossible to confirm independently and was almost six times higher than a figure of about 7,000 dead made public only days ago.

Although some massacre reports by each side appear genuine, both sides also engage in extensive propaganda campaigns.

Shortly before noon Monday, the city's defenders began firing mortars and heavy machine guns apparently at Serb positions in the hills, and the Serbs responded later with artillery fire.