A small battle slows the Muslim-Croat juggernaut

Witness...

Lusci Palanka - An urgent voice, crackling through the radio, broke into the casual banter. "Something must be happening," Rifet, a young Bosnian soldier, said casually over the sound of gunfire in the hills near by. The "something" appears to have been a chaotic clash that killed at least one Bosnian soldier and wounded several more close to Lusci Palanka.

The front line - at least yesterday - was only 1,000m from his command post, at the western edge of Lusci Palanka, a sprawling ghost village, its only remaining inhabitant an elderly, confused Serb woman. Soldiers waved us happily through the few checkpoints along the road from the fallen town of Bosanska Krupa to Palanka; those posted in the town were surprised, but friendly. But the fighting close by intensified during the afternoon, as attested by the quickening flow of ambulance traffic back to Bosanska Krupa.

At the town's tiny hospital, doctors struggled to patch the wounded for transport to Bihac without the benefit of running water or anaesthetics, judging by the moans of pain from a soldier with a bullet wound. An ambulance screamed into the car park with a full load from the Palanka skirmish. One man had died en route from a bullet wound, his eyes half-open, his limbs slumped in unnatural pose, a ventilator clamped between his teeth.

Four comrades clambered out, bandaged at aid stations near the front, resigned to the wait for further treatment. The men, members of the 505 Brigade, had broken through Serb lines on the edge of Palanka but found far more of the enemy than expected, the driver explained. "There was a lot of chaos," he said. "they were all mingled together." He sponged the dead man's blood off the stretcher, using a few drops of water from a tank outside the emergency room, and prepared for the return trip.

A second ambulance pulled up, with four more wounded soldiers, as a young doctor knelt before the tank, washing surgical instruments. A nurse washed blood off the tarmac.

In Palanka, a small frail woman dressed all in black wandered through a draughty cottage. "Poor Mara, unhappy Mara," she keened, a Serb left behind when her neighbours fled the Bosnian advance last week. Bosnian soldiers have brought her bread and water from a well a mile away, but say she would not move to a warmer house. "I'm poor, I'm not good, how can I be all right on my own?" she said blankly. "My two daughters are in Banja Luka."

Rifet and the other men from 505 Brigade have an eye on Banja Luka too, the Serb citadel beyond the town of Sanski Most, which lies 10 miles east of Palanka. Their lightning advance from the Bihac pocket, in which the Fifth Corps doubled the size of their enclave and joined up with troops from the Seventh Corps, based in central Bosnia, seems to have been halted at last.

"Up to Jasenica it was going smoothly, we just drove in. After that it got rougher," said Hidajet Mulalic, an artillery man.

There are few signs of heavy fighting along the road from Krupa to Palanka, and only a few houses burnt down along the 25-mile stretch. One was smouldering yesterday close to what must have been a Serb tank position: the road was scarred by a large crater - "One of ours", a hitch-hiking soldier said proudly - and several large shell cases.

Buoyed by their successes so far, the Bosnian soldiers are keen to press on towards Sanski Most, Prijedor and, eventually, Banja Luka. "If God allows, we'll go forward, because we're fighting not for one town but for Bosnia," Hasib, Rifet's commander, said austerely, declining all invitations to specify exactly how far the line was from Sanski Most and how his comrades in the hills north and south were doing.

He was bullish about his army's prospects, brushing aside suggestions that the Fifth Corps is exhausted after three years of siege and over- stretched by the offensive. Certainly the fighting so far, while causing hundreds of Bosnian casualties, does not seem to have been so fierce as to prevent a relatively orderly withdrawal of refugees.

The houses in Jasenica, along the road from Krupa, and Palanka - both wholly Serb villages, the soldiers said - were mostly undamaged. Most soldiers said they were ready to see Serb civilians return under government rule, but did not expect it to happen soon.

Two soldiers marched west, shepherding a middle-aged Serb, his feet bare save for holed socks. He was not bound, but the soldiers prodded him to move him along. They were not keen to chat.

The same could not be said for the military policeman at the checkpoint on the return journey to Krupa. "What time did you drive through?" he asked crossly, clearly under recent orders to keep civilians out of the area. Oblivious to his concern, one of our army hitch-hikers spotted a friend at the check-point. "The operation to take Sanski Most has just begun," he said happily.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
Tax now accounts for ‘nearly 80%’ of the price of a bottle of whisky
news

Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Arts and Entertainment
film
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Continuous Improvement Manager

£41500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Data Entry Administrator

£10670 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee