Serbs press on with 'ethnic cleansing': Muslims and Croats ousted from homes hours after Karadzic signs Vance-Owen peace plan

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The Independent Online
WHILE the world waits for the Bosnian Serb parliament to endorse the Vance-Owen peace plan tomorrow, Serbian authorities are pressing ahead with 'ethnic cleansing' in areas scheduled to come under their control.

On the morning after the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, signed the plan in Athens, a further 230 Muslims and Croats from the Banja Luka area were forced from their homes and allowed out through Serbian lines. They had been made to sign away all their possessions and to pay for the privilege.

The evictions raised doubts about the position of minorities in all

10 areas proposed in the plan, which has clearly given added impetus to the forced movement of minorities.

The refugees passed through a corridor during a temporary ceasefire secured by the British army west of the town of Travnik, which is under joint Muslim and Croat control.

Yesterday's small operation underlines the complexities of securing ceasefires and explains why 65,000- 70,000 troops will be needed to enforce the agreement - stretching the resources of the likely contributors. To secure a ceasefire and a corridor for those 300 refugees took hours to organise, several Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicles and a lot of talking.

The close proximity of the combatants is one reason why the operation may be so labour-intensive. Yesterday I was shown the Serbian front line, three houses away from a Bosnian army position. 'The house with the hole in the roof. You see the road and the apple tree with white blossom. Under this tree, a little bit of earth - that is the first Serbian trench.'

From the attic of the wrecked house in Obisenjak, west of Turbe, reached by a concrete stairway with loopholes hacked in a graffiti-covered wall, we could see the Serbian-held village of Varosluk less than a mile away. Warriors then rolled into Obisenjak and stopped short of the Serbian front line.

We followed, past rusted girders on the road, halting as the soldiers moved mines. Here, you could be shot at by Croats, Serbs or Muslims. To make the point, sniper fire cracked over the house where we had watched from the attic.

Having obtained agreement from both commanders that there was a ceasefire, eight four-ton British army Bedford lorries rolled through. The refugees arrived at the exchange point in buses, guarded by heavily armed Serbs. The Serbs were impatient to get them off the buses and on to the lorries. The Serbian commander even criticised the British for sending lorries, alleging they had gone to a lot of trouble to get buses.

But the Muslims were relieved to be away. As they rolled past the bullet-peppered blockhouse at Obisenjak, they looked grim and shattered but responded to waves and red and yellow flowers from the local garrison on what would otherwise have been a glorious day in May.

The Bosnian commander said he thought that the Serbs would abide by the ceasefire this time. He said, appropriately enough, that he felt 'ashamed that such a war happened in such a beautiful country'. And beautiful it was.

The refugees were far more pessimistic. A woman with her baby in the cab of one of the Bedford lorries said she had been burnt out of her home in Glamoc.

A refugee we encountered in Travnik said one man in a Muslim part of Banja Luka had been locked inside his house which was then burnt down. He still had relatives in Serb-controlled areas and did not wish to be named.

Like many, he had to pay 100 marks for the privilege of being 'ethnically cleansed' and to sign a paper handing over all his possessions to the Serbian authorities. He had not been burnt out and assumed his house would be given to a Serb.

(Photograph omitted)