Rebel Serbs defy Nato but lose vital territory

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SERB forces around Sarajevo, risking further air strikes if they fail to comply with Nato demands by tonight, dragged their heels yesterday in withdrawing heavy weapons from the area and opening up the city to the UN. In western Bosnia, meanwhile, the Serbs were suffering staggering territorial losses in the face of a Muslim-Croatian offensive. A UN official said Bosnian government forces now controlled 45 per cent of Bosnia, compared with 30 per cent a week ago, bringing the battle-lines closer to the internationallyproposed division of the country: 49 per cent to the Serbs and 51 per cent to the government.

The Serb delaying tactics cast a fresh shadow over the delicate, US-led attempts to broker peace in Bosnia. Half-way through the 72-hour deadline for the Serbs to show willing, the UN had seen only four artillery pieces, three tanks and five mortars, of an estimated 200 heavy weapons, leave the 20km exclusion zone around Sarajevo. "We remain sceptical about the Bosnian Serb commitment to honour to the full the undertakings they have made," a UN spokesman said.

Serb soldiers also turned back a convoy of vehicles from the Rapid Reaction Force attempting to open the main road to Sarajevo via Hadzici. UN commanders insisted that the road would be opened "soon".

Nato and UN commanders will decide after 8pm tonight whether the Serbs have made sufficient progress or whether new air strikes are needed. But some of the international resolve over the issue of ending the Serb threat to Sarajevo has clearly dissipated in the past few days. General Ratko Mladic, the Serb commander, has been allowed to keep 100 of the 300 heavy weapons in place because they are of smaller calibre, and an initial demand for the restoration of utilities has been dropped.

The US envoy Richard Holbrooke, leading the peace effort, returned to Belgrade yesterday for fresh talks with the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic.

In western Bosnia, the Bosnian 5th Corps, attacking from what had been the Bihac pocket, has joined Croatian troops along the western border, taken the towns of Bosanki Petrovac and Kljuc, surrounded Bosanska Krupa and were said to be marching on Sanski Most. Their next target is likely to be the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka, where the Serbs are sure to put up a fight. The fighting has displaced some 55,000 refugees.

Shaping Bosnia, page 15