SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Hercegovina -- Serbian guerrillas unleashed a surprise mortar barrage on shoppers in the heart of this embattled capital Wednesday, according to officials and witnesses, killing at least 17 people and injuring up to 160 others waiting to buy bread.
The attack prompted President Alija Izetbegovic's Party for Democratic Action, which represents the republic's Muslim Slavs, to break off European Community-sponsored peace negotiations with Serbian and Croatian leaders.
It also brought renewed government calls for U.N. military intervention to halt the war ignited by a Yugoslav army-backed Serbian drive to seize a self-declared state and join it to the Serb-dominated rump Yugoslavia forged by communist-ruled Serbia and its tiny dependent, Montenegro.
Witnesses recounted with horror lakes of blood, mangled corpses, and severed body parts littering the site of the attack on Vase Miskina Street in the heart of the Sarajevo, a predominantly Muslim Slav city of 560,000 that has been battered for weeks by indiscriminate Yugoslav army and Serbian guerrilla artillery barrages.
'I have a shop over there. I saw people lying on the ground, cut to pieces, with their brains spilling out,' Sulejman Hebib said in an interview with Sarajevo radio.
Said another unidentified witness: 'People were lying all over the place. I saw a man with his stomach open. I saw a guy without both legs. All over the place it was like a huge pile of human meat.'
At least 200 people were waiting outside a bakery or crowding around a nearby ice cream truck when three 82 mm mortar shells fired by Serbian Democratic Party guerrillas slammed into Vase Miskina Street, one of the pedestrian malls that thread through Sarajevo's main shopping district, officials said.
Serbian snipers shot at rescuers and ambulances as they carried casualties from the scene, witnesses said.
'Snipers fired on us while we were collecting the wounded,' said Hebib. 'They are like beasts. They were firing on their own people: Serbs, Croats and Muslims. This proves it is not an ethnic war. This is a war that a monster is waging against us.'
In Washington, the U.S. administration said that 'Europe has not seen such pain and cruelty' since the darkest days of World War II.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that it was hoped a cease-fire brokered by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev Wednesday would take hold, but Serbian assurances to the Moscow envoy were empty and had no apparent effect.
'There's been no improvement in the situation in Sarajevo,' Boucher said. 'The situation in the city is terrible. Europe has not seen such cruelty and suffering since 1945.'
The U.N. Security Council 'should fulfill its obligations towards a member,' said Izetbegovic, who told Sarajevo television that his government sent a letter to the body seeking military action. The republic was admitted to the United Nations last week.
He said that his Party for Democratic Action was withdrawing from the long-deadlocked EC-sponsored negotiations that resumed last week in Lisbon, Portugal, to protest the attack.
He said there could be no talks with the Serbian Democratic Party leadership.
'Talks will be possible when the aggression is surpressed,'Izetbegovic said, adding his party was willing to resume negotiations 'with Serbs who separate themselves from the criminals.'
'I'm calling the citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina to rise up in a fight against criminals who are embittering our lives,' he said. 'I am calling upon them to defend Bosnia-Hercegovina by all appropriate means. '
A spokesman for the republic's multi-ethnic defense forces said at least 17 people were killed in the 10:30 a.m. mortar attack. Sarajevo radio said one of their reporters counted at least 160 people being treated for injuries at several city hospitals.
Officials said the victims included Muslim Slavs, Croats and Serbs. The radio appealed for emergency blood donations.
In a related development, Sarajevo television said that three newborn infants died on Tuesday night as a result of an electricity outage caused by Serbian shellfire that set the city's main maternity hospital ablaze.
The government announced a major boost in the estimated casualty toll for the entire conflict, saying at least 5,190 people were killed or missing since the end of March, and another 18,004 were injured.
It said at least 1.2 million people -- more than one-fourth of the republic's population -- have been driven from their homes, most of them Muslim Slavs and Croats in what Western officials have condemned as a Serbian 'ethnic cleansing' campaign to create 'pure' Serbian areas.
In fighting around the republic since Tuesday morning, the government said, at least 24 people had died and 265 were wounded. The figures did not include the casualties in the mortar attack in Sarajevo.
Serbian Democratic Party leaders are demanding the partition of the city as part of their two-month-old drive to capture their self-declared state. They claim about 70 percent of the republic even though Serbs account for only 31 percent of the population.
Bosnia-Hercegovina's 1.9 million Muslim Slavs, most of the 750,000 Roman Catholic Croats and some of the 1.4 million Christian Orthodox Serbs favor independence for the republic. But, a vast majority of Serbs demand the right to join the rump Yugoslavia engineered by Serbia's communist regime.
'They are fascists. We cannot talk to people like them,' an outraged Stjepan Kljuic, a Croatian member of the Bosnia-Hercegovina presidency, said of those responsible for the mortar attack. 'They fired at poor people who were in lines waiting for bread and who had taken a chance to go out on this sunny day and breath some air after spending days and nights in their basements.'
Vice President Ejup Ganic charged that Serbian guerrillas deliberately targeted the bread lines, saying: 'They can see the people from the hills and bread is sold only in a few places.'
'This is a catastrophe. The only thing that can stop this is foreign military intervention,' he said.
U.N. Secretary General Boutros Ghali has recommended against such a move. But, Western diplomats have said there is growing pressure on the U.N. Security Council to provide military escorts for humanitarian aid convoys to the beleaguered republic.
In Belgrade, Momcilo Krajsnik, the head of the 'parliament' of the self-declared Serbian state, denied on Serbian radio that his party's militia was responsible for the attack.
Maj. Gen. Nedeljko Boskovic, the Yugoslav army's intelligence chief and its main representative in Bosnia-Hercegovina, condemned the mortar attack and called on Maj. Gen. Ratko Mladic, the hardline Serbian nationalist commander of the 'army' of the self-declared Serbian state, to punish those responsible.
'I hope that General Mladic will very soon find the guilty if they are among the fighters under his control,' Boskovic said in a television interview. 'Sarajevo has been a town of life and peace, and no one has the right to attack the city and to kill innocent people.'
The mortar attack came four and a half hours after Serbian forces and the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army failed to relinquish their grip on Sarajevo's airport under the accord announced Tuesday during a visit to the city by the Russian foreign minister.
Kozyrev said that under the agreement, all sides undertook to observe a cease-fire around the airport, which Western governments and international relief organizations want to use for humanitarian relief flights.
Hundreds of thousands of people face growing hunger and threats of diseases because a Serbian Democratic Party blockade of Sarajevo has reduced food and medicine supplies to critical levels.
The city has been subjected for almost two months of indiscriminate Serbian guerrilla and Yugoslav army artillery, tank and rocket barrages that have caused hundreds of casualties and left homes, office buildings, schools, places of worship, hospitals and factories heavily damaged or destroyed.