Croats mobilise '100,000 troops' to attack Serbs for onslaught 54/54 over 3 deckys

'The Serbs are still pillaging the villages'; Bosnia crisis: Zagreb masses forces around Serb-held region 8 French quit fallen enclave leaving Muslims hiding in woods

EMMA DALY

Sarajevo

United Nations officials in Zagreb were anxiously monitoring the mobilisation of tens of thousands of Croatian army troops and rebel Serb forces last night, possibly in preparation for full-scale war.

In Bosnia, meanwhile, UN peace-keepers began to withdraw from the fallen "safe area" of Zepa, despite fears that several hundred civilians may still be hiding from the Bosnian Serbs in the steep, thickly wooded hills above the shattered town.

"We now assess there are as many as 100,000 Croatian soldiers fully mobilised and battle-ready and as many as 50,000 on the (Krajina) Serb side," Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman in Zagreb said. However, British intelligence sources place the total number of Croat troops at no more than 70,000.

Croatian Serb jets bombed Croatian army positions for the second day, as the Bosnian war seemed about to spill over into a new struggle for control of Serb-held terrirory in Croatia. Both sides send delegates to Geneva for peace talks today but little progress is expected.

The United States cautioned Croatia yesterday to exercise restraint, but, in effect, welcomed military moves by Zagreb which could relieve military pressure on the Bosnian government. In London, the shadow Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, warned that Western governments were playing a "dangerous game", if they were encouraging Croatia to launch the new campaign to avert the need for military action by Nato. There was a danger, he said, of igniting a wider Balkan war.

However, appeals by both the rebel Bosnian and Krajina Serbs for help from the powerful forces controlled by Serbia proper appeared to have been rebuffed for the time being. President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia yesterday sent nearly identical letters to Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb leaders, appealing for an end to the war that he helped to begin.

"It needs more courage and strength to bring about peace than to start a war," he wrote to the Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. In a snub to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, he addressed a similar call directly to General Mladic, the military leader of the Bosnian Serbs and now his favoured client in Bosnia.

Zagreb wants the minority Serbs in the Krajina region, who broke away in 1991, to accept Croatian rule with guarantees of local autonomy. But the Krajina Serbs seem unlikely to accept Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's ultimatum that within 24 hours of the talks they must reopen rail links and oil pipelines running through their territory.

The decision to withdraw 200 UN troops from Zepa followed a demand from Paris that 78 French soldiers leave the conquered Muslim enclave by tomorrow morning. Two civilian officials will remain in the area for the next few days.

The UN had reinforced the "safe area" with French and Russian troops to supervise the forced evacuation from Zepa of civilians by the Bosnian Serbs. About 5,000 Muslims were taken in buses to government-held territory last week, but around 3,000 more, including up to 1,500 armed men, are thought to be hiding in the hills, fearful of Serb reprisals.

Hundreds of Zepa's former inhabitants have escaped across the border to Serbia, but the UN has reports that 200 men may have been detained by the Bosnian Serbs and that 600 may be trekking through Serb territory in the hope of reaching government-held central Bosnia.

Alexander Ivanko, the UN spokesman in Sarajevo, refused to speculate about French motives for the withdrawal, but another UN official said: "They just don't feel like having too many potential hostages."

General Mladic's soldiers are still exacting their revenge on Zepa. "The Bosnian Serb army is continuing to pillage in the villages," Mr Ivanko said. "Our officers on the ground have seen them loading cattle on to trucks and driving them out of the enclave."

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that a delegate had visited 60 refugees from Zepa who had reached the Serbian town of Mitrovica, across the Drina river.

"He interviewed 10 people, all of them men between the ages of 35 and 40, looking like civilians," Mans Nyberg said. "They looked very, very tired, extremely exhausted. They did not say anything other than that they had been walking for five days to reach Yugoslavia, and that they did not want to cross Bosnian Serb territory, fearing they would be killed," he continued.

"The Serbian authorities are very proud of these refugees and the media in Belgrade are making a big noise about them."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells