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by Hugh McManners, Defence Correspondent

British ammunition experts serving with the United Nations in Sarajevo have chalenged key "evidence" of the Serbian atrocity that triggered the devastating NATO bombing campaign which turned the tide of the Balkan war.

The experts, who examined the scene of the market massacre in Sarajevo in August, say they found no evidence that Bosnian Serbs had fired the lethal mortar round. They suspected the Bosnian government army might have been responsible.

They say French analysts who also examined the scene agreed with them. But they were overruled by the senior American officer, and the UN issued a statement saying it was beyond any doubt that the Bosnian Serbs were responsible for the blast, in which 37 people were killed and 90 wounded.

The carnage was used as a pretext for NATO's huge air campaign against the Bosnian Serbs, which was followed by extensive battlefield losses and forced the Serbs to the negotiating table.

The British experts were in a UN crater-analysis team that reached the Trznica (Markale) market in Sarajevo 40 minutes after the mortar attack on the morning of August 28. They began their inspection amid a bloody scene of smashed fruit stalls and screaming people.

Five mortars had been fired. The size of craters and metal splinters indicated that they were all of 120mm caliber, probably from towed mortars which are regularly fired into the city...


They suspected that the perpetrators might easily have been not the Bosnian Serbs but the Bosnian government army, which has been implicated in other incidents such as rocket attack on Sarajevo's television station on June 29, in which five people died and 30 others were injured.

The observations and findings were confirmed by the French, and they returned to base to make their report.

A senior American officer at the United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) headquaters in Sarajevo dismissed their findings, however, citing a small groove known as a fuse furrow made in the ground by the bomb head.

...Neither British nor French analysis notice such a groove.

By nightfall, the UN announced that the Bosnian Serbs were to blame. Fewer than 48 hours later, the NATO air strikes and artillery campaign began... ...

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