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BOSNIAN SERBS RETURN STOLEN WEAPONS

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Stung by a NATO airstrike, Bosnian Serbs returned weapons they had seized from a U.N.-guarded depot Saturday, and peacekeepers turned to ferreting out snipers terrifying the city.

Fighting raged elsewhere in Bosnia, some of the most severe in Vares, just 20 miles from the capital of Sarajevo.The airstrike, in which two U.S. A-10s destroyed an anti-tank vehicle, came after Bosnian Serbs took a tank, two armored personnel carriers and a mobile anti-aircraft gun from a U.N. depot just west of Sarajevo. Serbs fired at a U.N. helicopter sent to check on the tank.

No casualties were reported in the airstrike. The Bosnian Serbs, facing increasingly strong resistance from the government army and abandonment by their patrons in Serbia, said they needed the weapons for the Vares battle.

The seizures violated a NATO ultimatum banning heavy weapons in a 12.5-mile zone around Sarajevo. NATO and U.N. officials threatened further airstrikes if the Serbs again violated the exclusion zone.

U.N. spokesman Maj. Rob Annink made clear that the overall issue of heavy weapons in the exclusion zone had not been resolved and that the United Nations was protesting to the Serbs about mortar rounds fired recently near Sarajevo, including three rounds fired Friday.

The exclusion zone, established in February, had brought a semblance of normalcy to the city that had been under siege for nearly two years. But truce violations have increased recently, notably sniper fire.

Annink said peacekeeper patrols would start house-to-house searches of suspected sniper positions, including high-rise buildings from which snipers have targeted streetcar passengers. One rider was killed and 20 wounded in the past week.

Authorities shut down the streetcar system Saturday, a logistical inconvenience and blow to morale in the capital. Restoration of streetcar service in March had been seen as an omen that Sarajevo's suffering might soon be over.

Passengers said the trams should keep running, snipers or no.

"It's a prize for us to have the tram," said Indira Spahic, 24. "It would be stupid to walk when there is a streetcar."

Some say the surge in sniping is part of a general effort by Serbs to reimpose a tight siege on Sarajevo. Others say the Serbs simply envy the streetcar system.

"They don't have them on their side of the city," Spahic said.

But the Bosnian Serbs have shown no inclination to halt the fighting, despite almost-total isolation.

The weapons seizure came a day after Serbia said it was cutting off economic and political ties because Bosnian Serbs rejected an international peace plan.

The plan would require Bosnian Serbs to give up roughly a third of the 70 percent of Bosnia they control after 28 months of war. Muslims and Croats would get the remaining 51 percent.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is widely blamed for inciting Bosnian Serbs to rebel against Bosnia's secession from Yugoslavia. But Serbia has suffered heavily under U.N. economic sanctions imposed for its role in the war. Mediators want the United Nations to tighten those sanctions if the peace plan is not accepted.

Facing an imminent dearth of vital supplies from Serbia, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic issued an order for all able adults to report for work brigades, apparently to tend farms, stock up on food and work on housing.

He mentioned the introduction of 10-hour workdays and said industrial workers could be drafted into military units "if need be."

In overly cautious language, Karadzic refrained from any criticism of Serbia's decision to cut ties with the Bosnian Serbs. Comparing Serbia and his rebel Bosnian Serb republic to a mother and child, he said while a mother had the right to punish her child, "a child must not hit" the mother.

Elsewhere, Annink reported gains by Bosnian government troops on battlefronts in northern and central Bosnia. He said government forces had closed to within a mile of a key east-west Serb supply route in the Posavina corridor of northern Bosnia.

He also said government forces, along with their Bosnian Croat militia allies, had scored significant advances south of Vares. Bosnian radio, quoting army soures, reported a Serb attack and government counterattack on a shoulder of Mount Ozren, a Serb stronghold in between Vares and the northern city of Tuzla.