Bosnian 'blitzkrieg' shakes the Serbs

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN government forces claimed a stunning string of military successes yesterday where the army's 5th Corps soldiers appeared to have swept through a dramatically large area of Serb-held territory in northern Bosnia.

Last night, official Bosnian radio said 5th Corps troops were at the gates of two towns, Sanski Most and Prijedor, from where thousands of Muslims were expelled by the Bosnian Serbs at the beginning of the war.

The radio also reported that part of the corps was poised to advance towards the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka. Earlier in the day the Bosnian army seized the Serb-held town of Kljuc, on the main route to Jajce, captured by Croatian forces earlier in the week.

The Muslim and Croat advance may have as much to do with a tactical Bosnian Serb withdrawal as military defeat. For much of the three-year civil war Bosnian Serbs have held 70 per cent of the country, but they agreed a framework peace plan last week accepting a right to 49 per cent. Such considerations, however, can only exacerbate the unfolding refugee drama.

Tens of thousands of Serbs were yesterday converging on Banja Luka, ignoring pleas from the authorities that they go to other towns, for fear that those too might fall. "The situation in the city is one of complete chaos with cars, tractors and horse carts in every street. All accesss roads to the city are blocked," said a UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman. Other officials spoke of herds of sheep blocking city streets.

Bosnian Serb forces moved some more of their heavy weapons yesterday but were still far from pulling 200 of their big guns out of range of Sarajevo before tonight's deadline. By last night, UN officials had counted 43 heavy weapons removed from the 20km (12.4 miles) heavy weapons exclusion zone around the Bosnian capital.

The US Defense Secretary, William Perry, earlier expressed deep satisfaction that the Bosnian Serbs had apparently begun moving their heavy weapons away from Sarajevo as promised.

But Bosnia's Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, stepped up his government's complaints about the types of heavy weapons Serbs were being allowed to keep around Sarajevo. He said the guns being retained were those that had killed most of the 10,000 city residents who have died in 41 months of siege.

Shaping Bosnia, page 15