War rages in 'safe areas' of Bosnia

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The Independent Online
THE international plan to set up 'safe areas' for Muslims in Bosnia was on the verge of collapse yesterday, as fighting intensified between Serbs and Muslim-led government forces in the proposed safe areas of Sarajevo and Gorazde.

Besieging Bosnian Serb forces unleashed an artillery barrage on Sarajevo, killing at least 20 people and wounding more than 150, in one of the heaviest assaults on the Bosnian capital in the 14-month civil war. Local hospitals, reporting the casualty figures, said many civilians were hit by shell fragments in their homes.

The bombardment came during a determined attempt by the mainly Muslim Bosnian army to cut two Serb supply routes near the summit of Mount Trbevic, which overlooks the city. As the battle raged, Bosnian Croat forces warned that fighting with their former Muslim allies in western and central Bosnia could spread to Sarajevo.

In Gorazde, packed with refugees, Sarajevo radio reported a 'hellish situation' after advancing Serbs broke through the town's defensive perimeter, causing panic among the 60,000 to 80,000 inhabitants. Local authorities were reported to be trying to evacuate several thousand people.

Bosnian Serbs have slowly tightened the noose around Gorazde, the only large town in eastern Bosnia under government control. They recently cut off the mountain track leading westwards to Muslim-held regions of central Bosnia, used to bring in vital supplies of food and weapons.

Gorazde's Muslim defenders are weakened by a chronic shortage of arms, caused by the international arms embargo, and by the struggle with former Croat allies for control over towns in central Bosnia.

The plan to set up six 'safe areas' for Muslims in Bosnia drew bitter criticism as soon as it was announced, because it appeared to reward Serbian aggression. Those fears appeared justified last week, as the Bosnian Serbs started a wide-ranging offensive against several Muslim-held towns.

UN refugee officials in Belgrade said last week the Serbs were sabotaging the first 'safe area', in Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, refusing to let the UN bring in food to the enclave's 50,000 Muslims, and blocking attempts by UN engineers to repair its water supply.

ZAGREB - Croatia's President Franjo Tudjman said he wants to settle the Serbian rebellion in Krajina quickly and peacefully, but warned that if necessary his government would resort to force, AFP reports.

'A quarter of Croatian territory is currently controlled by Serb forces, which impedes the communications and normal economic activity in practically the whole country,' Mr Tudjman told parliament.

The President said this was why his government had opened negotiations with the Croatian Serbs, who control the Krajina crescent of land alongside north-west Bosnia.

Sanctions bite, page 10

Jonathan Eyal, page 19