UN officers held as Serb 'Tigers' roll back Croat attack

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SERBIAN forces led by the notorious paramilitary leader 'Arkan' launched a successful counter-attack on Croats in the Krajina region yesterday, while the United Nations accused the Serbs of holding 21 of its civilian police hostage in a town under Croatian fire.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, said, in effect, that the UN officers were being held as human shields, but equally blamed Croats for widening their attack against UN- monitored areas.

'The fact is that the Serb side sees the presence of the UN Protection Force personnel as an insurance for their safety against continued Croatian attack,' he said. 'But it is clearly inadmissible for peace-keepers to be held in this way, as it is unacceptable that the Croatian government should shell areas where United Nations peace-keepers are deployed.'

Mr Boutros-Ghali, briefing the Security Council, said the six-day-old offensive had 'serious implications' for the future of the 16,000 peace-keepers in Croatia, whose mandate comes up for renewal in about three weeks.

The attack by Arkan's troops, known as 'the Tigers', threatened to undo all the gains of Croatia's six-day incursion into Krajina and jeopardise its hold on the offensive's main objective, the Maslenica bridge.

With three-sided fighting reaching a new fury in Croatia and Bosnia, the Serbian offensive in Krajina was the first reverse for the Croats since they attacked six days ago to try to grab back Serb-occupied land east of the Adriatic port of Zadar. Serbian forces were reported to have retaken a village only a few miles from the bridge, and to be shelling the outskirts of Zadar.

A UN Protection Force spokeswoman, Shannon Boyd, said the UN officers - from the Irish Republic, Kenya, Norway, Nigeria, Argentina, Egypt, Jordan and Colombia - had been held on a Benkovac hotel's top floor since Sunday.

Despite the reverses in Krajina, Croatian attention was riveted on the dramatically deteriorating position in central Bosnia, where Muslim troops loyal to the embattled Sarajevo government appeared to have Croatian units surrounded in the town of Busovac, a centre of Croat operations with a mixed Croat-Muslim population.

At the Geneva peace talks, Bosnian Muslims at first threatened to walk out but then agreed on a truce with Croatian forces. But the Muslims said that Sarajevo came under the 'heaviest attack in the last four months' yesterday and accused the Serbs of shipping in new heavy weapons. A Muslim spokesman said: 'If these attacks continue the delegation will have to consider leaving the Geneva conference.'

In Mostar, the Bosnian Croat capital, Croatian officers declared that the security situation there was also extremely tense. Croatian radio, sounding uncannily like its Serbian counterpart, lashed out in its main news bulletin at what it called 'Muslim extremists' in the Bosnian army.

Sanction-busting on Danube, page 8

Haunted by rape, page 22

Letters, page 26