Serbs come down from the mountains

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The Independent Online
SERB FORCES eased their stranglehold on Sarajevo yesterday by withdrawing from two mountains overlooking the city, clearing the way for more peace talks in Geneva.

The retreating Serbs destroyed what was left of the 1984 Winter Olympics complex as they departed from Mt Bjelasnica and Mt Igman, which they captured from the Bosnian army three weeks ago. A buffer force of 250 French soldiers from the United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) moved in to replace them. 'When I look at the list of people, equipment and vehicles that have withdrawn, I think the area is free of Serb soldiers,' the UN commander for Bosnia, General Francis Briquemont, said after touring the area on Mt Igman which the Serbs had pledged to leave. He said a small Serb company was still on the south- east edge of the peak, but posed no threat to Bosnian government soldiers and was clearly ready to leave.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, is now expected to return to the conference table for talks on a plan to split his country into Muslim, Serb and Croat mini-states.

But while international attention has been focused on Sarajevo and the plight of its wounded children, further horrors have been taking place elsewhere in Bosnia, in places where there are no cameras.

In Mostar, Bosnia's second largest city, which is cut off from all international aid by besieging Croat forces, the International Committee of the Red Cross believes Croatian forces are using captured Muslims as human shields as they press home the siege. Some 2,000 Muslims are being held in a helidrome in what ICRC officials describe as appalling conditions. Croat forces have also been using the captives as forced labour, to dig trenches close to enemy lines. Because Croatian forces ringing the city refuse access to all international aid organisations, little is known with certainty about the fate of the city's inhabitants.

UN military observers in the hills around the city say fighting is continuing and the Bosnian army says the sanitary situation is critical and there is a severe lack of food.

Fighting between Croatian forces and Bosnian Presidency forces has raged on throughout central Bosnia despite the lull in Sarajevo, where only snipers remain active. A United Nations aid worker was shot dead while driving in a clearly marked UN High Commissioner for Refugees vehicle in the central Bosnian town of Vitez yesterday morning.

The killing has put the United Nations aid effort in renewed jeopardy. 'Everything that moves in this area gets shot at, this is very bad news for us,' said a senior UN official who pointed out that 64 members of the UN force have now been killed.