Ceasefire brings no relief to Mostar

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The Independent Online
FIGHTING between Bosnian Muslim and Croat forces in central Bosnia began to tail off yesterday after a ceasefire took effect, but there was no immediate sign that the Croats were lifting their siege of Muslims in the southern city of Mostar. Bursts of gunfire rang out in Vitez, a base for Britain's United Nations peacekeeping forces, but UN officials said that central Bosnia was 'generally quiet'.

The ceasefire is intended to end 10 months of warfare between the Muslims and Croats, who were once allies against the Serbs, and to build on a truce that Muslims and Serbs agreed in Sarajevo earlier this month. Under the ceasefire's terms, the Muslims and Croats are to hand over their heavy weapons to UN forces or withdraw them from front lines by 7 March.

In Sarajevo the UN sector commander, General Andre Soubirou, said Muslim forces were responsible for minor violations of the ceasefire declared there on 9 February. 'The ceasefire as a whole is being respected, but some shots are fired from time to time. Mostly they are the reaction of anxious Serbian soldiers shooting at Muslims who dig trenches regularly. This digging is a Bosnian provocation. The ceasefire does not allow for the digging of any fortifications.'

Apart from securing ceasefires in Sarajevo and central Bosnia, the UN is trying to open the airport in the Muslim-held Tuzla region of northern Bosnia so that humanitarian aid can be flown in for more than 1 million civilians trapped by the war. Danish UN forces arrived in Tuzla yesterday with nine Leopard tanks strong enough, if necessary, to sustain mortar and artillery fire from Serb forces who command the hills above the airport.

Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat leaders are expected to hold talks in Washington this weekend with leaders of Croatia itself. The US aim in bringing the three sides together is to restore the Muslim- Croat alliance in Bosnia and prepare the way for a close association between Croatia and two of the three sides in the Bosnian war.

It is not yet clear whether the Clinton administration has abandoned the idea of rebuilding Bosnia within its pre-war borders so that the Bosnian Serbs are included with Muslims and Croats in a single state. But given the Serbs' abhorrence of that prospect, it seems that the US may be working for a settlement that allows the Bosnian Serbs to go their own way, and even merge with Serbia, as long as Serbian power is balanced by a Muslim-Croat confederation.

Russia's parliament, acting on a request from President Boris Yeltsin, voted yesterday to send 300 soldiers to former Yugoslavia to join 400 troops who were recently deployed to enforce the Sarajevo ceasefire. 'This will symbolise Russia's growing central role in a Bosnian settlement,' said Russia's special envoy, Vitaly Churkin.

Turkey, which ruled Bosnia for much of the Ottoman period, said this week that Russia's intervention in Sarajevo justified the demand that Turkish troops should join UN forces in Bosnia. Turkey suspects that the Russian troops in Sarajevo are pro-Serbian rather than neutral.