Bosnian fury over 'betrayal' by Croats

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BOSNIAN leaders in Sarajevo yesterday accused local Croats of treason, after a proclamation of a breakaway Croatian state in the south of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnian officials described the Croatian declaration as a stab in the back which could scupper a planned joint offensive to break the Serbian siege of Sarajevo.

Mate Boban, a Bosnian Croatian warlord, proclaimed his state-within-a-state this weekend from his headquarters in Grude, in the mountains of western Herzegovina, close to the border with Croatia. Mr Boban said the new mini-state, known as 'the Croatian Union of Herceg-Bosnia' claims authority over the army, the courts and the economy in 30 per cent of Bosnian territory. The capital is the southern city of Mostar, which fell to Croatian forces after a recent offensive.

In a statement, the Bosnian government said that 'all decisions made by the so-called state of Herceg-Bosnia are illegal and illegitimate'. They called on Bosnia's 700,000 Croatians to rally to the legitimate authorities.

'This is a knife in our back which will seriously undermine our defences,' predicted Jovan Divjak, a Bosnian defence chief. An editorial in the newspaper Oslobodjenje said the move was 'a direct result of secret talks between Milosevic and Tudjman'. Slobodan Milosevic is the Serbian President and Franjo Tudjman is his Croatian counterpart. Croatian leaders in Sarajevo were loudest in their condemnation. 'This is outright treason,' said Stjepan Kljuic, a Croatian member of the Bosnian presidency.

A climate of suspicion has developed between the isolated Bosnian authorities in Sarajevo and their nominal Croatian allies outside the city, who control a large chunk of territory between Sarajevo and the Croatian border.

An expected offensive by Croatian forces to liberate Sarajevo shows no sign of materialising, although Croatian forces are within easy striking distance of the city. Rumours circulate, instead, of fraternisation between Croatian and Serbian forces outside the capital.

The move to proclaim a separate Croatian state inside Bosnia may backfire. By sowing dissension between Croats and Muslims, the military capacity of both communities to resist the much better armed Serbs, who control more than 60 per cent of the republic, will be severely weakened.

ZAGREB - Serbian forces overran the strategic town of Derventa in Bosnia yesterday after months of bitter fighting, Croatian television reported. The Serbian assault on Derventa, a town of 50,000, was part of a drive to open a corridor through Bosnia linking Serbia and Serbian enclaves to the east, Reuter reports.