British base under fire in Bosnian Croat offensive

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BOSNIAN Croat forces launched a heavy bombardment of Bosnian army positions around the British UN base at Gornji Vakuf yesterday, after telephoning the British to warn them. The shelling by the Bosnian Croat HVO closed the one resupply route - Route Diamond - into central Bosnia south of Gornji Vakuf, possibly to mask troop movements.

The fighting is a further blow to the UN High Commission on Refugees, which hoped to resume supply convoys up the route today.

The HVO's objectives were unclear, but they could have been to distract the Bosnian army from their threatened assault on the isolated Vitez pocket, to the north, or as a feint to cover a Croat push from the Kiseljak pocket towards Vitez. In the last two days the HVO has pushed at least halfway from the Kiseljak pocket towards Busovaca and the south-east of the Vitez pocket, probably hoping to link them.

The bombardment, which seemed to be concentrated on the hamlet of Batusa, north west of Gornji Vakuf, started at 6.20am and 550 mortar, rocket and artillery rounds fell during the course of the day. Only three were reported to have landed inside the base, although I witnessed rounds landing between 300 and 400 metres away. Batusa and some of Gornji Vakuf have remained in Bosnian army hands: the HVO occupies the south-west of the area.

There were reports yesterday that Fojnica, a Muslim town in the key area between the Kiseljak and Vitez pockets, had fallen to the Croats but then been retaken by the Bosnian army, although reporters who were there on Sunday said it was still in Muslim hands. The UN headquarters at Kiseljak said last night the HVO controlled a key road junction which enabled it to restrict the movements of the Bosnian army. 'They don't need to take the town, necessarily,' said Squadron Leader David Fillingham at Kiseljak.

Near Fojnica are two hospital complexes, one at Drin housing equal numbers of adults and children, and another closer to the front line at Bakovici housing equal numbers of elderly and psychiatric patients. The staff have left because of the danger, causing conditions to deteriorate terribly.

Last night 100 Canadian soldiers were in the hospital complexes with a Danish doctor who was co-ordinating treatment. The staff have not returned. Sources said there had been no significant change in the front lines in the area.

The UN also confirmed last night that two Franciscan monks from the monastery at Fojnica had been murdered, shot several times. The Bosnian army, which has been surrounding the monastery, has removed the bodies for an autopsy.

(Photograph and map omitted)