Bosnia slides from civil war into anarchy: Muslims force British troops to surrender their arms

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN CROAT forces yesterday attacked an aid convoy bound for the Muslim-held city of Tuzla, took eight people off it and shot them, a British military spokesman and United Nations officials said.

The drivers 'were taken from their vehicles and shot. I do not know if they are dead,' spokesman Paul Fykes from the British UN base in Vitez said. At least eight British Warrior armoured personnel carriers rushed to the scene, outside the town of Novi Tavnik, a central Bosnian area about 62 miles northwest of Sarajevo, and were 'trying to quell the violence', Mr Fykes said.

In Vitez, Muslim gunmen forced British United Nations troops to surrender their weapons and made them lie face down on the ground before marching them off like prisoners of war, UN sources said.

One of the Muslims hit a British soldier on the head with his gun, and the rest of the British troops were forced to get out of the armored cars. The Britons were marched off to stand by a fence and one fighter loosed off his Kalashnikov a matter of inches from one British soldier's feet.

The attack began when five Muslim fighters with Bosnian police insignia approached two UN Spartan armoured vehicles. while their British commander was checking his map. The commander radioed his base for help, but two men climbed onto the Spartan, one pointing his Kalashnikov at the Briton's head and the other tearing down the radio aerials.

The 500-truck convoy to Tuzla, organised by local officials in in the town, had been travelling without a military escort, because it did not fall under the UN umbrella. But British troops have mounted frequent patrols along its route.

Croat women stopped the convoy with banners reading, 'Everyone needs food'. Sources said uniformed Croat fighters then arrived in cars, and, brandishing their Kalashnikovs sub-machine guns, looted the vehicles.

Croats tried to snatch journalists' cameras and in a scene of chaos Croat women attacked two foreign reporters with shovels. Journalists departing later heard gunfire in the darkness.

Cedrick Thornberry, the top UN official in former Yugoslavia, said the situation in Central Bosnia now 'has the marks of anarchy in which local commanders do not appear to be complying with central authority'.

General Milivoj Petkovic, the Croat supreme commander who earlier signed a ceasefire accord with his Muslim counterpart, rushed to the scene to rein in the fighters in negotiations with a British peace-keeping officer, the sources said.

The convoy had taken advantage of a general ceasefire signed by rival Croat and Muslim commanders yesterday afternoon to move into central Bosnia from Prozor to the south. It was carrying food and medical supplies to Muslim and Croat communities in and around Tuzla.

Muslim forces have been shelling and burning Croatian villages around the town of Travnik. Thousands of Bosnian Croatian civilians fled the fighting, some even seeking shelter with their Serbian enemies.

Up to 2,000 Bosnian Croat refugees from Travnik were expected to cross Bosnian Serb lines into Croatia last night. A convoy of 29 International Red Cross lorries and 50 private cars left Serb-held Mount Vlasic for the five-hour journey to the Croatian town of Novska.

Women climbing on board the Red Cross lorries at Mount Vlasic spoke of their surprise at the warm treatment they received at the hands of their former Serb enemies. 'We were trembling because we did not know what to expect,' said a woman from the village of Ovcari, near Travnik. 'Once we arrived we realised these people are the same as we are. They are human beings.'

Colonel Milovan Milutinovic, a Serb spokesman, accused British UN forces in central Bosnia of failing to halt the fighting in Travnik. 'They did nothing to stop the bloodshed, they just withdrew to their barracks in nearby Vitez,' he said.

The Muslims have imprisoned several hundred Croats inside the city, he added. 'A message has to be sent to the international community to save these people, before it is too late.

Croatia's deputy Prime Minister, Vladimir Seks, told Croatian television Croatia would have to review its treatment of 266,00 Bosnian refugees, 80 per cent of whom are Muslim, after the Muslim army offensive.

The Mufti of Croatia and Slovenije, Sevko Omerbasic, said Mr Seks's statement was a thinly veiled threat against Bosnian Muslims in the country.

The Bosnia President, Alija Izetbegovic paid a suprise visit to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, yesterday but failed to see President Franjo Tudjman, who was returning from a visit to China cut short by the fighting. Mr Izetbegovic, apparently looking to shore up his flagging relations with Catholic Croatia, said he would meet the Pope today in Rome.