70,000 'facing a massacre': Bosnian plea to UN as Serbs advance on town

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - The leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina have sent a desperate appeal to the United Nations Security Council to convene an emergency session to prevent a feared 'massacre' by Serbian forces of 70,000 people in the Bosnian town of Gorazde.

In Sarajevo itself yesterday, fears that an aid aircraft might be shot down increased after bullets ripped through a French plane, one of 18 landing at the airport.

The appeal to the UN came as Serbian forces led by General Ratko Mladic pushed ahead with a military offensive in the east and north of the republic, aimed at crushing stubborn outposts of Muslim Slav resistance.

Bosnian units were yesterday battling frantically in the streets to repulse the Serbian assault against Gorazde, 31 miles south-east of Sarajevo. The town is the last Muslim outpost in eastern Bosnia not taken by Serbian forces. Belgrade television said Serbian forces were at the city gates.

The town has been under siege by Serbian forces since 12 April. A pre-war population of 40,000 has been swelled by the arrival of tens of thousands of refugees from other towns in eastern Bosnia which were overrun by Serbian forces during the first big Serbian offensive in Bosnia in April.

Many refugees went to Gorazde in the nave or desperate hope that an overwhelmingly Muslim town would be spared the Serbian onslaught. But Gorazde looks certain to relive the fate of Vukovar, the eastern Croatian city which was 'liberated' and destroyed by Serbian forces last year. 'All the suburbs of Gorazde came under artillery fire during the night,' local radio said yesterday.

Amateur radio operators there estimated up to 70,000 people were trapped with dwindling supplies of food, medicine and power. Amputations are being carried out without anaesthetic.

Bosnian leaders are calling on the UN Security Council 'to meet urgently . . . in order to put a stop to the massacre of tens of thousands of people in Gorazde who have been under Serbian occupation for three months'. Kemal Muftic, an adviser to the presidency, said Gorazde has come under daily bombardment by Yugoslav air force warplanes. Belgrade defence chiefs deny any role in the Bosnian conflict.

Mr Muftic said that more Bosnian forces had been ordered to head for Gorazde to try to break the siege. But he admitted that the pitifully underarmed Bosnians can do little to help. 'You can't fight planes with rifles,' he said. Mr Muftic said the fall of Gorazde could be 'in a matter of hours'.

A Bosnian television journalist, Enes Husovic, trapped inside the town, said houses were burning and corpses littered the streets. Bosnian defence officials said up to 400 shells were falling on the town daily.

Gorazde's fall will seal the Serbian occupation of eastern Bosnia. Overwhelmingly Muslim until fighting began in April, the region has been subjected to what Serbians call 'ethnic cleansing' - the forced deportation or killing of non-Serbs. As world attention centres on Sarajevo, the bloody carve-up of the rest of Bosnia by Serbs, and to a lesser degree Croats, has passed almost unnoticed.

The town of Slavonski Brod and villages in central Croatia came under mortar fire from Serbian forces sweeping through northern Bosnia yesterday. The fighting spurred an exodus to Croatia of 20,000 Muslims and Croats.

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