However, British diplomatic sources said that the reports should be treated with caution as Muslims could be expected to do anything to provoke Western military intervention, a goal throughout the Vance- Owen peace process.
Bosnian Serb forces admitted that fighting was going on but denied launching an attack on Zepa, near Srebrenica, saying they were responding to fierce assaults by Muslims.
One British source said the Muslims had a history of provoking a disturbance and exaggerating its extent.
On the eve of the Bosnian Serb parliamentary meeting in Pale to vote on the Vance-Owen peace plan, President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia sent a letter to the Security Council urging it to declare Zepa a UN-protected area and to dispatch a company of some 150 troops 'to defend this area and (the) civilian population there'.
Reports said Serbian forces had broken through forward defences around the mountain settlement, one of the last two Muslim strongholds in eastern Bosnia, and were burning
Mr Izetbegovic said the Bosnian Serbs had used heavy artillery and tanks and that 'after four hours' attack, there are tens of dead and wounded . . . Those capable are trying to escape. Nobody is helping the sick and wounded. Literally, everything is on fire.' He said about 40,000 people were crowded into the enclave, including about 35,000 refugees of whom 8,000 were children.
British sources said the reports - two days after the Bosnian Serbs signed the Vance-Owen plan - were 'taken seriously' because of their possible effect on the peace process. The Muslims are fully aware that the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, now in Moscow, is seeking international support for limited air strikes - a more favourable scenario in Washington's eyes than waiting for the peace plan to be implemented, which would require some 30,000 US ground troops. That is a commitment which President Bill Clinton and his military advisors regard as tantamount to disaster.
Last night the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, proposed sending a 70,000-strong force to enforce the peace plan for Bosnia, with the military side of the operation to be entrusted preferably to Nato members. A top Russian general in Brussels said yesterday that his country planned to contribute to the multi-national force. The UN chief also envisaged civilian UN staff working in human rights, refugee repatriation, humanitarian aid and border control.
International pressure continued to grow yesterday to get the hard-line Bosnian Serbs to ratify the plan, but they remained defiant. Vojislav Seselj, an extreme nationalist leader from Serbia proper, told a rally to defy threats of military intervention. 'The Serbs had to flee over the hills when the Turks ruled this land. The Vance- Owen plan will make us do the same again,' said Mitropolit Dabro Bosanski Mikolai, the leading Orthodox churchman in Bosnia, who was on his way to Pale to attend today's session.
Serbian soldiers in eastern Bosnia yesterday shook their heads when asked how they felt about giving back seized lands, as stipulated under the plan accepted by their leader, Radovan Karadzic, on Sunday.
'He (Karadzic) can go wherever he likes. We are staying here,' said one.Reuse content