Bosnia's antagonists running out of steam

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The Independent Online
WITH six days to go until the resumption of peace talks in Geneva, the three main warring factions in central Bosnia have every incentive to make one last attempt to gain territory in the belief that possession is nine-tenths of the law.

But exhaustion appears to have taken its toll, and yesterday, according to UN sources, all sides were 'holding their breath', with 'stalemate' in the disputed town of Gornji Vakuf.

Military sources denied reports of significant Muslim troop movements south of Trav nik or heavy fighting between Serbs and Muslims near Doboj and the Muslim Maglaj pocket. Fighting between Croats and Muslims continues at a constant, low level of violence, which has delayed but never halted aid convoys.

The troops' prime mission remains to escort aid convoys, and in spite of the fighting, the aid has been getting through. On Friday 1,054 tons of aid reached central Bosnia, and on Saturday 780 tons - a modest but respectable total, close to the average.

In recent weeks the Muslim-led Bosnian Army (BiH) has made considerable gains at the expense of the Bosnian Croat HVO. The Croats are not being allowed to evacuate their wounded from the Novi Bila hospital, in a converted church near Vitez, as long as the Croats continue to blockade Muslims in eastern Mostar.

For several weeks the BiH have been pushing south, gaining control of Bugojno in the last week of July and then pressing south-east to meet the HVO moving north from Prozor and the key Makljen ridge. The HVO have a checkpoint on top of the rocky ridge, which lies south of Gornji Vakuf and the fuzzy dividing line between HVO and BiH control.

Gornji Vakuf, about three-quarters of which remains in BiH hands, is the hinge of this particular battle. It is also the base of a company group centred on B Company, The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire. The south-west section of the town is in HVO hands, the rest BiH.

On Saturday a British UN patrol came under fire from the Croat-held partisan cemetery, and shot back. Sporadic small-arms fire continued throughout Sunday and yesterday.

At the weekend there were television news reports of BiH troops moving south from Tra vnik, reports denied by UN authorities. 'They may have been seen by CNN but they weren't seen by anyone else', said one source. 'And CNN weren't there'.

Sources said BiH forces which withdrew from Mount Igman, south of Sarajevo, had made their way north from the Bosnian capital and across the BiH-controlled area - Bosnia's Muslim heartland - to Travnik, where they appeared to be resting.

To the south, Jablanica and the key hydro-electric plants on the adjacent lake remain in BiH hands, as does Konjic, the last major town on the land route into Sarajevo.

Spanish UN troops in Jablan ica have been negotiating with the BiH and HVO, trying to set up a joint commission for the exchange of prisoners and bodies.

Igman and Bjelasnica, the two mountains commanding Sarajevo from the south, are under the tenuous control of French UN troops but BiH patrols have been attempting to 'sneak back', according to UN sources, leading to Serb threats to reoccupy the area.

(Map omitted)

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