Bosnian offensive threatens ceasefire

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The Independent Online

Artillery and infantry attacks on several fronts shattered the tenuous Bosnian ceasefire yesterday, as government forces, frustrated by a lack of political progress during the four-month truce, went on the offensive across central Bosnia. Serbian forces responded by shelling government- held areas, including the city of Tuzla, killing several Bosnian soldiers.

"There are unconfirmed reports that 30 Bosnian soldiers were killed and between 50 and 200 wounded in an attack by the Bosnian Serb army on the main barracks in Tuzla town," said Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman in Zagreb. Another spokesman said the hospital in Tuzla, a UN "safe area", had treated 50 casualties from the shelling, including civilians.

Explosions and machine-gun fire were recorded around Mount Vlasic, the Serb-held mountain that towers over government-held Travnik, around Serb- held Doboj and along the Posavina corridor, a narrow strip connecting Serbian-held land in east and west Bosnia.

"It's a serious body-blow to the cessation-of-hostilities agreement, it's the single most serious ceasefire violation since the agreement came into effect at the beginning of the year," Mr Gunness said. He said the UN was not yet ready to bury the peace process. "We are hoping that what we've seen are isolated attacks, and, as yet, it's unclear what the scale and strength of any retaliatory measures might be."

UN observers counted 400 to 500 artillery explosions around the Majevica hills, east of Tuzla, yesterday and saw 2,000 Bosnian soldiers and five T-55 tanks moving towards the area.

"It seems that the Bosnian army is taking some offensive action in that area," said Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Coward, a UN spokesman. The attack, probably aimed at a communications tower in the Majevica hills that has changed hands several times, subsided. The weather in the area is said to be bad, with low visibility.

Sarajevo also experienced an upsurge in fighting. "There were numerous sniping incidents today, with six people wounded, all on the Bosnian side," Alex Ivanko, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo, said. "At noon, a rench armoured personnel carrier was hit by small-arms fire from the Serb side."

In Croatia, Mr Gunness reported an attack by Croatian and Bosnian Croat troops on the UN commander in "Sector South", a UN Protected Area held by rebel Serbs. Major-General Rostislav Kotil was pinned down for an hour by machine-gun fire from Croat troops 300m away when the general tried to visit a UN observation post. A military observer was injured.