Bosnia fighting rages after UN troop vote

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The Independent Online
SERBIAN and Muslim-led government forces fought artillery and gun battles across Bosnia-Herzegovina yesterday just hours after the United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment of up to 6,000 extra Western troops in the former Yugoslav republic. Fighting raged in the suburbs of Sarajevo and four other towns as both sides strove for maximum advantage before peace talks resume in Geneva on Friday.

Bosnian leaders dropped a threat to boycott the negotiations, but expressed doubt that the West was truly determined to end the conflict. 'We are suspicious about how serious the West is about stopping the war,' said Ejup Ganic, a member of the collective Bosnian presidency. 'We feel we are being blackmailed.'

Bosnian officials said that 80 people had been killed in the republic, including 28 in Sarajevo, in the 24 hours up to 10am yesterday. Almost 550 other people were wounded. The fighting highlighted the dangers that will face the expanded force of Western peace-keepers in Bosnia, whose mission is to protect convoys carrying humanitarian supplies.

The Security Council adopted its resolution by 12 votes to none, with China, India and Zimbabwe abstaining. It broadened the mandate of the peace-keepers by giving them the right to shoot not only in self-defence but if the combatants prevent them from performing their duties.

The troops, including 1,800 from Britain, will join 1,500 UN peace-keepers who are already in Sarajevo and another 14,000 based in Croatia. The operation represents the West's biggest commitment to Bosnia since fighting broke out there last April. Apart from Britain, the troops will come from Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, the European Community and UN mediators, sent a message yesterday to the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, deploring Serbian air attacks on the northern Muslim town of Bihac. The UN commander in the former Yugoslavia, General Satish Nambiar, said the Serbs had used rockets and cluster bombs in Monday's raids.

However, the message from Mr Vance and Lord Owen acknowledged that 'Bosnian Serb forces were not the exclusive source of the renewal of hostilities'. Western diplomats said privately that they believed the Muslims had started Monday's fighting, perhaps to provide a pretext for not attending the Geneva talks.

The Muslims have lost so much territory to the Serbs that they fear a ceasefire would freeze the situation to their disadvantage. However, President Alija Izetbegovic agreed to send his foreign minister to Geneva after the UN and EC reminded him of his 'solemn personal pledge' to send a senior envoy.

BELGRADE - The Yugoslav President, Dobrica Cosic, yesterday attacked the Yugoslav Prime Minister, Milan Panic, for suggesting that Serbia would have to give up Prevlaka, the southern tip of Dubrovnik that is occupied by the Yugoslav army, writes Marcus Tanner. Mr Panic recently agreed with Lord Owen and Mr Vance that Prevlaka should remain in Croatia as a demilitarised zone patrolled by the UN. Western diplomats say that if Serbia fails to abide by the agreement, it will be taken as a sign that Mr Panic lacks the political strength to convert his words into deeds.