Bosnia's new general visits siege city

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The Independent Online
The new UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith, yesterday paid his first visit to the Muslim enclave of Bihac, where attacks by Croatian Serbs allied to Muslim rebels against the Sarajevo government risk shattering the month-long truce.

General Smith, who took command last month of 24,000 peace-keepers in Bosnia, was due to meet the Bosnian army commander and United Nations forces but had no plans for talks with the rebel Muslims.

A UN spokesman, Michael Williams, said the threat to the ceasefire came mainly from Serbs in the Krajina region of Croatia who are allied to Fikret Abdic, a renegade businessman who controls the north-west town of Velika Kladusa. "Responsibility for the fighting in Bihac lies very heavily with the Knin Serb authorities," he said.

The UN said that the Krajina Serbs had increased their presence in the enclave, despite promising to withdraw. "We've seen a clear increase both in the kind of weapons the Krajina Serbs are deploying, both artillery and tanks, as well as actual troops," another UN spokesman said.

Bihac is the most serious problem facing the new UN commander. General Smith planned to visit the UN "safe area" for talks with General Atif Dudakovic, the Bosnian commander whose troops have recently retaken around 20square miles of territory from the Krajina Serbs west of Bihac.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, warned of demands from his army to open new fronts to relieve the pressure on Bihac. This, he said, could mean "the end of the ceasefire and the opening of a new round of war".

Fighting south of Velika Kladusa has slowed in the past 48 hours. But Croatian Serbs yesterday shelled government-held Buzim for the second day running. The hospital was hit, but there were no casualties.

In Sarajevo, the problems confronting General Smith are more political than military: There are demands for the release of a Bosnian journalist kidnapped by Serbian police from a UN armoured vehicle, and complaints about the refusal of the Serbs to allowcivilians to use the UN-declared "blue routes" running across Sarajevo airport and leading into the city.

In a rare show of unity, the Bosnian and Serbian governments rejected a French proposal for another international conference. Sarajevo feared it would water down the peace plan, rejected by the Bosnian Serbs. Belgrade said it would be a "waste of precious time".