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CAUGHT IN CRISIS, U.N. WON’T STRIKE BACK

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Its Bosnian mission in crisis, the United Nations said Tuesday it rejected a request to have NATO warplanes retaliate for an attack on Bangladeshi peacekeepers.

The attack and the U.N. response illustrate the delicate relations between the peacekeeping force and Bosnian Serbs who have paralyzed U.N. operations. The Serbs have said relations cannot return to normal until the threat of NATO airstrikes is eliminated.Five peacekeepers were wounded after missiles were fired at a U.N. armored personnel carrier in the northwest Bihac region on Monday. One of the soldiers from the U.N. Protection Force, or UNPROFOR, died from his wounds Tuesday, the 68th U.N. fatality in Bosnia.

"The attack on the Bangladeshi soldiers is one of the most flagrant and calculated assaults on UNPROFOR to have taken place in the history of this peacekeeping operation," said U.N. spokesman Michael Williams in Zagreb, Croatia.

"The nature of the weapons used left no doubt that this was anything other than deliberate targeting of UNPROFOR soldiers," he said.

Lt. Col. Jan-Dirk von Merveldt, a U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo, said U.N. officials warned Bosnian Serb army officials of the "consequences" of further attacks. But he said the local Bangladeshi commander's request for NATO air support had been turned down.

Von Merveldt said poor visibility contributed to the decision.

NATO is drawing up plans for a possible evacuation of U.N. troops.

But U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said U.S., British and French defense officials were trying to salvage the peacekeeping mission, afraid that a U.N. pullout would invite the spread of warfare outside the former Yugoslavia.

Perry, speaking en route Tuesday to a meeting of NATO defense officials, said the three allies were reconsidering several shelved proposals to make the U.N. mission more effective. One would involve establishing a heavily fortified corridor to shuttle humanitarian aid from Croatian ports on the Adriatic Sea to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.

Other options include air cover for U.N. supply convoys, repositioning U.N. forces in less vulnerable areas and intensifying security around the Sarajevo airport, where gunfire has repeatedly halted aid flights.

Williams said the Bangladeshis were attacked by Croatian Serbs or allied renegade Muslim forces fighting Bosnian government forces in northwest Bosnia. The wounded were taken to a U.S. military field hospital in Zagreb, where Pvt. Hassain Ismail died Tuesday.

Meanwhile, spokesman Kris Janowski for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees told reporters in Sarajevo that Bosnian Serbs had given permission for an aid convoy to travel to Bihac.

Three convoys carrying up to 450 tons of food also were headed for the capital, Sarajevo, and expected later in the day, Janowski said.

But he complained that Serbs occupying an area of Croatia near Bihac were hampering aid deliveries to the embattled city.

The U.N. commander for Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, went to Bosnian Serb-held territory outside Sarajevo on Monday to demand an end to the harassment.

Von Merveldt said the Bosnian Serbs agreed to reopen the Sarajevo airport to permit U.N. troop rotations. But the agreement apparently does not permit the resumption of the humanitarian airlift, shut down weeks ago.

The United Nations, meanwhile, announced that Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith will take over command of peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, replacing Rose on Jan. 24.