Bosnia's bloody labyrinth: Many sides of conflict in the former Yugoslav republic

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The Independent Online
TELEVISION cameras cannot be everywhere at once. But in the case of the wars of the Yugoslav succession, recent Western television coverage has dwelt almost exclusively on eastern Bosnia, and that has obscured the fact that numerous conflicts are raging elsewhere in the republic.

Some are similar to the fighting in the eastern Bosnian enclaves of Srebrenica and Gorazde in that they pit Serbian forces armed with heavy artillery against the poorly equipped defenders of mainly Muslim towns. An obvious example is Bihac, in north-western Bosnia, where about 75,000 Muslims have been under Serbian siege for almost a year. Bihac suffered heavy shelling yesterday, causing a United Nations military spokesman to say that a ceasefire introduced in Bosnia on 28 March was all but dead.

Sarajevo, too, is a city under siege by Bosnian Serb forces. However, the Bosnian capital is different in that its defenders are not only Muslims but Croats, Serbs and people of mixed nationality. Moreover, the Bosnian government forces in Sarajevo are better armed than the defenders of Srebrenica and Bihac and have shown themselves capable of prolonged resistance.

In other parts of Bosnia, Serbian forces are not involved in the war. On 26 March, Croatian radio reported that Muslims and Croats had fought a battle near the southern town of Konjic in which six soldiers were killed on each side. The Bosnian Croat armed forces, the HVO, accused the Muslims of provoking the clash by arresting six Muslims who had joined the HVO. The Muslims blamed the Croats, who have spent months trying to turn south-western Bosnia-Herzegovina into a virtual province of Croatia.

The Muslims and Croats are nominal allies against the Serbs, and in some areas - notably around the towns of Brcko and Gradacac - they have fought side-by-side. Their aim is to sever the vital supply route linking Serbia with Serb-controlled parts of northern Bosnia.

But the Muslims suspect that the Croats, just as much as the Serbs, have annexationist ambitions in Bosnia. In recent weeks Muslim-Croat clashes have broken out in several areas of central Bosnia, including Travnik and Gornji Vakuf. When British troops were sent to Bosnia last year under the United Nations flag, the British public was probably under the impression that the main danger to them would come from the Serbs. Yet the first British soldier who died was killed during a Muslim- Croat battle at Gornji Vakuf.

The UN Protection Force in Bosnia reported yesterday that more Muslim-Croat fighting had broken out near Jablanica, on the main road between Sarajevo and the southern city of Mostar.

Few conflict zones are more complicated than Mostar, a city where, in the Second World War, Muslims, Croats and Serbs refused to set upon each other with the ferocity seen elsewhere in Bosnia. Soon after the Bosnian war erupted last April, the Serb-led Yugoslav army began reducing Mostar to rubble. But the town held out, and the conflict evolved into a Muslim- Croat struggle. The Croats have made Mostar the capital of Herzeg-Bosnia, their client state in Bosnia, despite the fact that the Muslims were the city's largest nationality before the war.

Since January, fighting has not been confined to Bosnia. War broke out anew in Croatia last January when the Croats broke a UN ceasefire to recapture land lost to Serbs in 1991. This week the Serbs accused the Croatian army of burning Serbian houses in the villages of Kasic, Islam Grcki and Smokovic, while the Croats accused the Serbs of shelling the ports of Zadar, Sibenik and Dubrovnik.

Morillon's role, page 21

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