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NATO FIRES ON SERBS AFTER ARMS THEFT

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NATO warplanes struck near Sarajevo Friday in retaliation for the seizure of a tank and other heavy weapons from a U.N. depot by Bosnian Serbs.

The United Nations summoned the aircraft to enforce a NATO order banning heavy weapons from around Sarajevo. A State Department official said two American and two French planes took part.Lt. Col. Bertrand Labarsourque of the U.N. force in Sarajevo said he knew of one strike for sure. He said he believed the target was a Serb tank about six miles from Sarajevo and that the tank was hit.

Bosnian Serbs seized a T-55 tank, two armored personnel carriers and an anti-aircraft gun from a U.N.-guarded site near Sarajevo Friday and shot a U.N. helicopter sent to track the tank.

The Serbs' theft indicated increasing desperation a day after Serbia cut off crucial support to them for rejecting the latest international peace plan. They also threaten an increasingly shaky truce that has spared Sarajevo heavy bombardment since February.

Maj. Dacre Holloway, a U.N. spokesman, said the Serbs had parked a stolen tank and an armored personnel carrier near a hospital and a school. That would make it nearly impossible for NATO planes to try to hit the weapons because of the danger of hitting civilians.

It was not immediately known whether the tank targeted was the one Holloway referred to.

U.N. officers had previously demanded from the Serb military that they immediately return the weapons, but negotiations dragged on, apparently without result.

Maj. Rob Annink of the U.N. peacekeepers also reported that Serbs on Wednesday fired two rounds of 82mm mortar fire into a Sarajevo neighborhood in clear violation of the weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo.

It was the first time the United Nations confirmed that heavy weapons fired on central Sarajevo since NATO ordered the Serbs out of the 12.5-mile exclusion zone in February.

Any violation of the exclusion zone would be grounds for U.N. commanders to call NATO airstrikes. Firing on the U.N. helicopter is also grounds for an airstrike.

Annink said an undetermined number of Serb soldiers raided the weapons shortly before 4 a.m. from a U.N. collection point in Serb-held Ilidza, just west of Sarajevo.

About 30 Ukrainian peacekeepers guarding the site didn't notice the incursion until the Serbs were leaving with the weapons and were unable to stop them, Annink said.

U.N. commanders sent a French Puma helicopter to track the tank, but the helicopter was forced to return to its base after several rounds of small-arms fire hit it, Annink said. No one on board was injured, he said.

Shortly afterward, peacekeepers traveling by road were blocked at a Serb police checkpoint when they tried to move into the area where the tank had been sighted, Serb-held Semizovac northwest of Sarajevo.

The Muslim-led Bosnian army later said the Serbs detained a U.N. patrol near Semizovac, but U.N. officials said they had no such information.

Annink said Serb commanders contended their troops needed the seized weapons to fend off attacks by government forces in the area around Vares and Visoko north of Sarajevo.

"The Bosnian Serb army has an overwhelming advantage in heavy weapons," Annink said. "In my opinion, they would not need these four weapons."

Bosnian Serbs have grown desperate since Yugoslavia announced Thursday it would sever all economic and political ties with Bosnian Serbs, a day after they refused for the third time to accept a plan to end 28 months of war.

Bosnian Serb leaders have pledged to fight on even without Serbia's support, which has been vital to their domination of their fight with Muslims and Croats.

Most telephone service was cut off Friday between Bosnian Serb territory and Yugoslavia, now consisting only of Serbia and tiny Montenegro.

The Yugoslav economy has suffered heavily under U.N. economic sanctions imposed for the country's role in the war. Mediators want the U.N. Security Council to tighten those sanctions if the peace plan is not accepted.

The plan would require Bosnian Serbs to give up roughly a third of the 70 percent of Bosnia they control. Muslims and Croats would get the remainder.