Bosnia Muslims gain ground in fierce Mostar battle: General mobilisation order issued by Bosnian Croats as they find themselves outnumbered in heavy fighting

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BOSNIAN Muslim forces overran a Croatian military base in the city of Mostar yesterday as fighting between the former allies in Bosnia's three- way war spread south in the republic.

Bosnian Croat officials said that a decisive battle for Mostar, the scene of vicious fighting between Croats and Muslims in May, was under way. Several reports said explosions were rocking the city and that many houses were on fire.

The officials conceded that Mostar's Tihomir Misic base had fallen after fierce fighting erupted late on Tuesday and that the Muslims had also won control of the northern approaches to the city and a nearby hydro-electric dam. Muslim-controlled Bosnian radio said Muslim forces now controlled almost the entire left bank of the Neretva river, which dissects the south-western city.

Bosnian Croat commanders, their men outnumbered in heavy fighting with Muslim forces, ordered a general mobilisation yesterday. 'The existence of (Bosnia's) Croats is in danger,' said a spokesman for the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) in Zagreb, explaining the order issued by the HVO president, Jadranko Prlic.

In Sarajevo, a United Nations spokesman said that Bosnian Serb forces were blocking a convoy of nine trucks, bringing fuel for the city's hospitals and utilities, at a checkpoint west of the besieged capital. The Serbs were demanding half the supplies in return for releasing the convoy, said Peter Kessler, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

He said that the situation at the checkpoint was tense and a French military escort with the convoy had been ordered to use force if necessary.

The last fuel supplies reached Sarajevo a month ago and the city is almost without electricity and water. 'The Serbs seem to be aiming to cripple Sarajevo,' Mr Kessler said.

In Zagreb, the HVO spokesman said Mr Prlic had issued an 'appeal and order' to all Bosnian Croats aged between 18 and 60 to report for military duty within 24 hours. The order followed Croat reports of battlefield successes in fighting with the Muslims for control of ethnically mixed towns and villages in central and south-western Bosnia.

Evidence of collusion between the Bosnian Serbs and Croats against the Muslims came to light yesterday. Three Bosnian Serb tanks and two artillery pieces crossed the Serbian lines near the UN headquarters at Kiseljak, then crossed Bosnian Croat lines and disappeared south towards Kresevo into Croat-held territory.

The news followed evidence of collusion in the Turbe/Travnik area west of Vitez, in Vares and in the Maglaj area where fierce fighting continued yesterday. The area is inaccessible but, according to the Muslim-led Bosnian army (BiH), there are 8,000 refugees trapped in the area, waiting to come south, and a serious problem with wounded. When they can, the refugees will head for Zenica, which already has 30,000 refugees.

General Philippe Morillon, the UN commander in Bosnia, described the fighting in the Maglaj finger as 'a last convulsion' and said he did not think it heralded the imminent defeat of the Bosnian army'.

NEW YORK - A US-backed resolution to exempt Bosnia from an arms embargo failed to win adoption by the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Reuter reports. The Council yesterday extended the mandate of UN troops in Croatia for three months but agreed to a review in 30 days as a concession to Zagreb's objections. Croatia's consent is necessary for the 12,000 troops to remain.