British seek more defensible site

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The Independent Online
BRITISH UN forces in Vitez have plans to move to another, more defensible site if they come under serious Serbian attack. At present, there are four or five heavy 152mm Serbian guns on the Vlaska feature, within range of the Vitez base of the battalion group in central Bosnia.

UN plans to establish five 'safe areas' in Sarajevo, Zepa, Tuzla, Gorazde and Bihac are regarded here with extreme scepticism. Sarajevo, Gorazde and Zepa are all under Serbian attack or reported to be so, and are hardly 'safe'.

Local radio hams report Zepa to have suffered 200 dead and 320 wounded, with hospitals, including one in an underground cave, overflowing. The Canadian battalion, with its headquarters at Visoko, has said it will try to enforce any 'safe area' plan, but will not use force - hardly a feasible option.

Last night there was still no independent confirmation of the reports of a large-scale attack on Zepa. The UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Philippe Morillon, was reported to be trying to reach the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic.

Commander Barry Frewer, spokesman for the UN command in Sarajevo, said: 'We're angry, we're frustrated. We will continue to push the mandate to the limit short of the use of force.' Only the use of force, it seems, will achieve anything.

Sources here are highly sceptical of the 'safe area' plan, saying it is a return to the 'ink blot' strategy that preceded the Vance-Owen plan to divide Bosnia into 10 cantons. The UN has so far only proposed increasing its forces by 50 observers. There are about 9,000 troops in the Bosnian UN Protection Force (Unprofor 2), merely to escort humanitarian aid.

To establish 'safe areas' for Muslims would mean the Serbs withdrawing beyond artillery range. As the British troops in Vitez know full well, that can be up to about 20km (13 miles) - the standard 122mm pieces have a 17km maximum range and the 152mm has a range of 24km. Zepa is a tiny enclave, and forcing the Serbs outside artillery range looks impractical.

Larger enclaves - cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla - are worth defending, and the Serbian artillery is immobile so if it is moved it will not come back.

British troops returned to the village of Ahmici 8km east of Vitez yesterday afternoon to remove the four bodies from the 16 April massacre of Muslims discovered earlier this week. The massacre claimed up to 103 lives.