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Serb planes reportedly bomb town

A NATO jet swooped over a besieged northern town Sunday after Bosnian state radio claimed Serb warplanes destroyed a bridge in an attack similar to the one that provoked NATO retaliation.

With Serb troops barring access to Maglaj, there was no way for NATO or U.N. officials to visit the site to check the claim that planes attacked the Muslim-held town about 40 miles north of Sarajevo. But NATO officers raised questions about the report.

Squadron leader John Jeffery, a NATO spokesman in Naples, Italy, said early warning aircraft did not detect any air attack on Maglaj. "If we had, we would have taken action," he said.

Bosnian radio and neighboring Croatia's HINA news agency said Serb planes targeted Maglaj's only bridge, which spans the Bosna river, and destroyed it. HINA said its story was based on reports from ham radio operators in Maglaj.

Such a raid would be a flagrant violation of the no-fly zone imposed by the U.N. Security Council over Bosnia. It also would be a challenge to NATO, which has been patrolling the zone since April and has begun showing a new resolve to act forcibly against warring parties in the former Yugoslav state.

Last Monday, two U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters shot down four Bosnian Serb fighter-bombers in central Bosnia that U.N. officials said were attacking Bosnian government targets.

There were other signs Bosnian Serbs were testing NATO.

U.N. officials said Saturday they found six Serb howitzers in the immediate vicinity of Sarajevo, in apparent violation of a NATO ultimatum that all heavy weapons around the besieged capital be withdrawn or put under U.N. control. Although the Serbs denied the howitzers violated the ultimatum, U.N. officials said the Serbs agreed to remove the weapons.

Serb soldiers also fired at French U.N. troops near Sarajevo's Jewish cemetery Saturday night, in what U.N. officials said was a deliberate attack on peacekeepers. One French soldier was slightly wounded, a U.N. spokesman, Maj. Rob Annink, said. French troops returned fire.

With the nearly 4-week-old Sarajevo cease-fire between Serbs and Muslim-led government forces under strain, the U.N. chief representative in the former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, flew to Sarajevo for talks Sunday. He met with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Pale east of Sarajevo and later in the capital with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.

Akashi said he made progress toward reopening Tuzla airport.