Brutality of factions brings devastation

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GENEVA - The eyes of the world may have been fixed upon Sarajevo and its children in the last week but the real war was being fought elsewhere, and it did not involve the Serbs.

'The biggest breach of the ceasefire during this conference has been the Muslim-Croat fighting,' confided Lord Owen, the EC mediator. 'Indeed the greatest tragedy of these last three months has been the unleashing of this inner tension that has always existed between the Croats and Muslims.'

Muslim, Croatian and Serbian leaders were invited back to the Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday to resume their talks on the future of Bosnia after a break of almost two weeks. During that time public attention was drawn to the plight of Bosnia's children and the greatest political and diplomatic effort was exerted to persuade the Serbs to withdraw from two strategic heights above the capital.

This they have now done. The level of fighting in Sarajevo has eased to the extent that the UN Protection Force spokesman there yesterday uttered the controversial opinion that the city could no longer be described as 'under siege'.

The assessment was certainly not shared among conference officials in Geneva, but they believe that the Sarajevo situation has stabilised both in military and political terms. The Serbian retreat from Mount Igman removed an impending threat to Bosnian government forces. At the same time, however, the heights remain denied to the government because the UN has deployed troops in the area. It therefore constitutes a loss to the government and places further pressure upon it to come to a compromise.

That compromise already exists in outline. It was conveyed to the UN Security Council 10 days ago by Lord Owen and his co-chairman, Thorvald Stoltenberg. There can be no permanent settlement in Sarajevo for a long time, they said. Lord Owen muses that the city might move under complete UN protection with the agreement of all sides. Thus it is that Lord Owen and his team of advisers think that the Sarajevo question has been neutralised, for the moment.

They are far more concerned about the fierce fighting in progress between Muslim and Croatian forces for control of territory between the Bosnian hinterland and the Adriatic, a competition in brutality which has reduced once civilised Ottoman towns, such as Mostar, to battlefields, while provoking gross abuses of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, normally a body whose discretion borders on reticence, spoke out yesterday against the Croats for their appalling treatment of Muslim prisoners. It said some captives have been pressed into labour gangs on the front line. At the same time, Croatian members of Bosnia's presidency have denounced 'atrocities and crimes' by Muslim forces and withdrawn from the business of government, dealing a fatal blow to the pretence of a multi-ethnic administration in Sarajevo.