Serbs storm into Gorazde: Bosnian Muslim pocket crumbles before ferocious assault - SAS soldier killed - Washington at a loss

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The Independent Online
THE TOWN of Gorazde was on the brink of falling to the Bosnian Serbs last night after a ferocious assault on the Muslim-held enclave.

A British soldier, believed to be a member of the SAS, died after being wounded in the town and evacuated during a temporary ceasefire. The enclave was 'crumbling', according to the US State Department, which said that the Bosnian Serbs had 'effectively taken control'.

Another British soldier was hurt but the helicopter crew that went in to evacuate him elected to treat him on the spot, as the hostile fire was so intense. Bosnian Serb army chiefs called on Muslim troops in the enclave to surrender, as Serb forces advanced to within 500 yards of the main hospital.

The Ministry of Defence did not identify the dead and wounded soldiers as SAS. However, it is widely assumed that the regiment was deployed in the Gorazde area to guide the US air strikes this week. The French pilot who flew out the soldier who later died said his helicopter came under heavy fire.

With Muslim defences near collapse, it seemed certain that Nato would consider another bombardment of Bosnian Serb targets despite fierce resistance from Russia. Major Rob Annink, a spokesman for the UN Protection Force in Bosnia, said: 'Unprofor will protect its personnel in Gorazde town by all means, including if necessary the means we used earlier this week.' Gorazde's only hope appears to be Nato air strikes. While these could not be used against forward Serb positions, rear positions could be targeted.

A State Department official said that while the pace of meetings and consultations had speeded up, no urgent meetings of Nato or the UN Security Council had been called. The mildness of the US response may be an indication the administration has effectively written off Gorazde. One official remarked: 'Gorazde isn't Sarajevo.'

United Nations officials said Bosnian Serb forces had redoubled their assault on the enclave despite two Nato air attacks on their positions last Sunday and Monday. Strategic positions were reported to have fallen and the town's mayor said there were many dead.

'There is a stream of people moving into Gorazde from the north and north-east, pushing wheel barrows and carts. There are lines of people pushing their belongings,' said Peter Kessler of the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Hundreds of people have been killed and wounded in Gorazde since late March, when the Serbs started an offensive on the grounds that the Muslims were using the enclave as a launch pad for attacks on Serbian positions. Gorazde is the largest of three Serbian-surrounded Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia that the UN has declared 'safe areas'.

In another sign of the extreme tension between Nato and the Bosnian Serbs, a French reconnaissance aircraft was hit by ground fire over the Gorazde area. The Etendard IV-P returned safely to the aircraft carrier Clemenceau in the Adriatic.

Bosnian Serb authorities continued to hold almost 200 UN civilian and military personnel virtual hostages in retaliation for Nato's air attacks. The Serbs maintained their blockade of UN traffic on their territory, but withdrew troops from two UN compounds within the Sarajevo zone which contain Serbian heavy weaponry surrendered in February.

The United States said earlier yesterday it was unclear about the status of the Gorazde enclave and sent mixed messages on what might happen if the Serbs took the town. 'We don't know what the Serbs are doing in Gorazde right now. We have seen conflicting reports that they might be advancing,' a State Department spokesman said. The Americans had essentially been relying on the Russians to restrain the Serbs from taking Gorazde. They do not have an alternative policy.

The Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, accused the UN of abandoning the Gorazde enclave despite its status as a 'safe area'. 'The Serbs have taken tonight some very important points on the left bank (of the Drina river) and tanks and everything are shelling,' Mr Silajdzic said. 'But why no action? It remains a puzzle for us because we do not know what more the Serbs have to do in order to be punished for this.'

The United States said it will send another 200 troops to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia next week, bringing to over 500 the number of Americans serving in a UN observer force there, Reuter reports.

Serbs tighten grip, page 8

Letters, page 15

(Photograph and map omitted)

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