Croats dig in as Serbs 'meet their Waterloo'

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TRIUMPHANT Croatian troops began digging in yesterday around the captured Serb towns of Grahovo and Glamoc in western Bosnia, as the Serb offensive against the Bihac enclave appeared to lose its punch.

The attack on Bihac may be the biggest mistake the Bosnian Serbs have ever made, for by launching a joint offensive with Croatian Serbs last week against the north-western Muslim enclave, the Serbs have set in motion a chain of events which could undo them.

"History may remember Bihac as the Serbs' Waterloo," said a senior UN diplomat in Belgrade. The loss of Glamoc and Grahovo represents the largest territorial setback for the Bosnian Serbs in three years. It was also a strategic blow, as the towns control access to Knin, the rebel capital of the Croatian Serbs.

Some of the 10,000 Croatian troops attacking along the border with Bosnia turned west along the road from Grahovo to Croatia, a supply route to Knin, UN sources said. They have apparently moved to the foot of the mountains on the border near Strmic, where the Krajina Serbs are reinforcing in case of an attack towards Knin.

UN military sources believe the Croats, whose intervention has eased the pressure on Bihac, will now consolidate their gains in Bosnia, perhaps pushing east to widen the corridor they have cut and aid its defence. Both the Bosnian and Croatian Serbs have introduced martial law throughout their territories but it may be already too late.

At least 13,000 Serbs have fled the devastating Croatian attack, adding to the burden on the humanitarian agencies, which are already dealing with 35,000 people expelled from the fallen enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa.

Yesterday Zepa was reported to have been comprehensively looted and much of it burnt to the ground by the Serbs. Up to 3,000 civilians and 1,500 Bosnian soldiers are thought to be still hiding in the hills nearby.

General Ratko Mladic told the UN his Serb forces had killed Avdo Palic, the Bosnian commander in Zepa, when he emerged for talks on a surrender. Local negotiations, Gen Mladic announced, were now at an end.

Another Serb general denied the report of Palic's murder, and sources say it may be a Serb story aimed at demoralising the remaining Bosnian soldiers hiding out near Zepa. Whether Mr Palic is dead or in custody, the incident is unlikely to foster faith in General Mladic's promises to respect the rights of civilians and prisoners of war.

Six armies, page 14