Cedric Thornberry, the deputy chief of the UN mission in Yugoslavia, accused local Serbian police of being behind a wave of ethnic killings in the region.
'We are seeing a return to terrorism in the UN zones, and to the most brutal kind of ethnic cleansing,' he said. 'People are being brutally murdered and grenades thrown into their homes. The police are not policing and the courts are afraid to sit.'
Mr Thornberry made it clear that the 'special militia', set up in Serbian-held regions of eastern and central Croatia after the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army, were involved in more than 50 ethnic-based murders, reported to have taken place in the UN zones in recent weeks. 'Many of the terrorists belong to the so-called special militia,' he said. 'In many cases they belong to gangs who have moved in from Serbia.'
Mr Thornberry's decision to admit publicly that a crisis is afflicting the UN zones in Croatia marks a break with past practice. Until now, UN officials have seemed reluctant to admit the peace plan was running into trouble. The move reflects a degree of desperation in the UN and fears that the collapse of the plan could trigger a fresh war between Croatia and Serbia.
The statement comes after the UN narrowly averted a shoot-out in eastern Croatia between Serbian forces and more than 1,000 refugees attempting to reclaim their homes. Mr Thornberry had sharp words for Croatian politicians who backed the march from the Croatian-held city of Osijek to the Serbian-held village of Antunovac. 'They are risking refugees' lives,' he said. He described the march as 'the height of folly'.
In London, a British reconnaissance party that returned from Bosnia last night will be debriefed at the Ministry of Defence this morning. Army sources say that the group will recommend air cover for army contingents escorting UN relief convoys. One source said a regiment of helicopters was on standby in Germany.
The party also wants more freedom for British troops to open fire - before being fired upon, if necessary. It is understood that they believe the 'yellow card' system, similar to that used in Northern Ireland, would be too constricting.
It is also clear that British troops may not be operational in Bosnia until the end of November. The reconnaissance party has found the situation on the ground to be even more difficult than envisaged. A second reconnaissance party, to explore new routes into Bosnia from the south-west instead of the north-east, is being considered. Sources said the reconnaissance had demonstrated that the British would not be able to cross ethnic frontlines.
In Geneva, diplomats said that the co-chairmen of the peace conference on Yugoslavia, Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, averted a Serb-Croat agreement on demilitarising Sarajevo, which would have isolated the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo.
'Only some fast footwork by Vance and Owen over the past 48 hours stopped this happening and got agreement from all three sides that they have to talk about peace on the ground together,' one diplomat told Reuters news agency.
BELGRADE - Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a police patrol in the town of Glogovac, in Serbia's Kosovo province, killing an officer and seriously wounding another, Tanjug news agency reported, AFP reports. In another incident, a Yugoslav army lieutenant-colonel was shot and wounded while driving towards the northern town of Podujevo, a centre of the pro-independence movement among Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, Politika Expres reported.