Croats press on and retake villages

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The Independent Online
Defying international pressure to stop fighting, Croatian forces yesterday pressed on with an offensive into the Serb-held enclave of Krajina, mopping up villages east of the Maslenica bridge. The bridge was taken at the weekend.

The fighting yesterday centred on Karin, a village about 15 miles east of the port of Zadar, control of which would fulfil the Croatian aim of putting the bridge beyond the range of Serbian artillery fire.

But a United Nations spokeswoman, Shannon Boyd, said there were reports of Croatian troops massing at the southern tip of Krajina, at Pakovo Selo near the town of Drnis. 'Croatian army shelling has continued . . . in an attempt to move forward at various points on the confrontation line,' she said.

The Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, said yesterday that Croatia would not return the bridge, despite a UN Security Council vote condemning his army's strike.

He said that Croatia was willing to withdraw units from the bridgehead if Serbian forces disarmed and returned heavy weapons they had seized from UN depots last Friday.

But the entire area would then be supervised by Croatian police to ensure a reinstatement of Croatian civilian sovereignty, Mr Tudjman said.

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, yesterday accused Croatia of 'provocative actions' and announced that the deputy Foreign Minister, Vitaly Churkin, will go to Zagreb today to meet President Tudjman 'in view of the aggravation of the situation in Croatia'.

President Boris Yeltsin has been under growing pressure from hardliners in Russia, who have accused him of selling out their former Serbian allies to the West. Russia said on Monday that it would seek UN sanctions against Croatia unless it halted its offensive.

France announced yesterday that it was sending the aircraft carrier Clemenceau and six other naval vessels to the Adriatic after two French UN soldiers were killed on Monday during the Croatian offensive in Krajina.

'Having an aircraft carrier . . . offers possibilities that we have not had up to now,' the Defence Minister, Pierre Joxe, said. 'There are other measures we might consider to ensure the security of French units.'

Fierce fighting is also reported in Bosnia, with a Bosnian Croat leader saying Muslims had launched 'a large-scale offensive' against several Croat-held towns in the central region, 'massacring the population and burning everything along the way'.

The Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, called for international intervention in the Bosnian war. 'Crimes against humanity implicate us all,' he said.