Bosnia: Bihac shelling destroys UN peace-keeping role: Serbs from 'protected' Krajina step up attacks on Bosnia, writes Marcus Tanner in Zagreb

THE United Nations peace-keeping operation in Croatia was in tatters yesterday as Serbian forces operating from a 'UN-protected zone' accelerated a tank and infantry offensive into north-west Bosnia.

For a second day a force of 300 Serbian troops, supported by 10 tanks and artillery, shelled Muslim villages several miles inside the Bosnian border near the city of Bihac. United Nations refugee officials based in the town of Velika Kladusa reported they could hear Serbian shells pounding Bosnian positions 18km to the east.

A UN spokesman in Zagreb said the attack appeared to be aimed at overrunning the village of Vrnograc. If the offensive succeeds, Serbian forces will be close to surrounding Velika Kladusa, a large market town of 60,000 Muslims.

The Serbs fired 2,000 mortar bombs from what is supposed to be a UN demilitarised zone in Croatia on to Bosnian-held positions in the Bihac region on Tuesday.

In Bihac, the Bosnian authorities said 3,000 people had fled their homes from advancing Serbs so far, taking their livestock with them. There were no reports of the number killed and wounded. Serbian forces inside the UN-protected zone in Croatia at the same time hijacked an aid convoy heading for Bihac. UN refugee officials stood by helplessly as Serbs made off with 19 tons of food, mainly ready-to-eat meals.

General Lars-Eric Wahlgren, UN Protection Force commander in the former Yugoslavia, has dispatched 300 French UN troops to Bihac to bolster a small force already in the region. They have orders to prevent Serbian attacks against civilians.

'I have ordered my soldiers to prevent all violations of human rights,' General Wahlgren said in Belgrade. 'They will be empowered to use force if they are prevented by force from carrying out their tasks.'

The swift deployment of UN troops in Bihac forms part of a new policy of sending in peace-keepers before armed conflicts get totally out of hand. The UN is desperate to avert a repeat of the tragic events in the town of Srebrenica, where troops were deployed at the last minute, only after Serbian forces had practically taken the town and had inflicted horrendous casualties on the civilians crammed inside.

The Bihac pocket is one of the largest Muslim-held enclaves in Bosnia and comprises several big towns, including Bihac, Velika Kladusa and Cazin. A pre-war population in the region of 250,000, almost all Muslims, has swelled to nearer 300,000 following an influx of Muslim refugees from other parts of Serbian-held northern Bosnia.

UN officials in Zagreb strenuously deny that the Serbian offensive into Bosnia from a UN zone in Croatia is an embarrassment to their peace- keeping operation. They say that after Croatian forces re-took a sliver of Serb-held land around the coastal port of Zadar on 22 January, Serbs took back all the heavy weapons placed earlier in UN custody. 'We have not had these weapons in our control since January, and getting them back is the priority,' a UN spokesman said. The UN has complained to Serbian authorities in Knin about the offensive, but 'no response has been received', he added.

In spite of UN claims, the end result of the latest Serbian offensive from a UN zone in Croatia is likely to be a lot more criticism of the way the peace-keeping operation in Croatia has been run. More than a year after the UN deployed 14,000 troops in Serb-held parts of Croatia, the peace plan for the republic drawn up by Cyrus Vance appears dead in the water.

No implementation has begun of any of the points in the plan, starting with the surrender by Serbs of heavy weaponry, the return of some territory to direct Croatian control, the return of refugees to their homes and the creation of mixed Croat-Serb police forces for the entire region.

Instead, Croatian Serbs have taken the phrase 'UN-protected zone' quite literally. Using peace-keepers as a shield, they have consolidated an ethnically pure Serbian state, called the Krajina.

Serbian leaders in Belgrade and in Bosnia deny any connection with the offensive against Bihac. The Bosnian Serb commander, Ratko Mladic, suggested the attack was the work of irresponsible individuals.

The Serbian denials are not convincing. Their forces in Bosnia and Croatia are highly integrated, with a common patron in the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. The Serbs could be trying to take advantage of the vicious struggle between Muslims and Croats for control of central Bosnia to launch fresh attacks throughout Bosnia. On Tuesday, Serbs turned back a UN food convoy heading for the besieged Muslim town of Gorazde. They told the UN not even to try to send another convoy for two weeks.

In central Bosnia, in spite of a ceasefire agreement between Croats and Muslims, battles still rage around the ethnic Croat town of Busovaca, which the Muslims have been almost surrounded.

British UN forces based at Vitez, central Bosnia, are patrolling an agreed ceasefire line between the Muslims and the Croats. But the British UN forces face a separate threat - attacks by Serbian forces positioned only 20km to the north on Mount Vlasic.

Major Bryan Watters, of the Cheshire regiment in Vitez, has said a local Serbian commander threatened the Cheshires with 'immediate shelling if Western air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions take place. Vitez is certainly within the range of Serb artillery stationed on the Vlasic feature,' he said.

Leading article, page 27

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn