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IFOR Commander Says United Nations Blocked NATO Strikes In Srebrenica

Naples, Italy; July 30 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations blocked attempts last year to use air power to prevent the fall of Srebrenica, the retiring commander of NATO-led peacekeeping troops in Bosnia said.

U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, who will retire tomorrow, made the comment in an interview with Reuters television at his headquarters in Naples, Italy.

Smith said he made requests for air strikes over several days in telephone calls to U.N. commanders. The calls were made as the then U.N.-declared Muslim "safe area" in eastern Bosnia was under attack by Bosnian Serb forces. Under the rules then in force, both NATO and UN commanders had to approve the use of air strikes.

No air power was used around Srebrenica until July 11, 1995, but the strikes came too late to stop Bosnian Serbs from overunning the enclave. U.N. war crimes investigators are in the process of gathering evidence to prove that Bosnian Serb forces killed thousands of Muslim men and boys following Srebrenica's fall.

U.S. Admiral Joseph Lopez will succeed Smith as commander of IFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force, tomorrow.