Muslims rout Croats after accepting 'safe areas'

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THE MUSLIM-led Bosnian government caved in last night to international pressure, accepting the plan to set up six 'safe areas' for Muslims who are facing the prospect of an open military alliance between Bosnian Serbs and Croats.

President Alija Izetbegovic made acceptance conditional on their being expanded to include economic hinterlands, and international endorsement of the Vance- Owen plan as the framework for a final settlement.

Meanwhile there was intense fighting between Muslims and Croats for control of the town of Travnik in central Bosnia, and fresh signs of co-operation between Serbs and Croats.

UN military sources in the town said hundreds of people had been killed, and some 3,000 Croatian civilians expelled from their homes. The Bosnian Serb news agency claimed 5,000 Croats from Travnik had crossed Serb lines to flee the Muslim forces. Many were Croatian soldiers who had surrendered.

The West faces serious problems over the 'safe areas'. Nato is supposed to provide air cover, part of a United Nations resolution agreed on Friday, but is split over its operation and uncertain of the precise mandate. There are also doubts about where troops to protect the 'safe areas' will come from. Lord Owen said Russia had declined to provide any.

Senior Nato diplomats admitted yesterday that there was disagreement between the United States and some European allies. The US says air strikes should be used only to protect UN troops, while Britain says air power is to defend the 'safe areas'.

Stage set for tragedy, page 10

Leading article, page 21