Croatian defeats worry the Serbs

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The Independent Online
WITH the planting of the green flag of Islam embellished with Arabic script in the middle of the ancient Croatian town of Vares in central Bosnia, the Bosnian Muslim army scored perhaps its most significant victory.

The fall of this strategic mining town and the flight of its majority Croatian population opens up a vital road, entirely controlled by Muslim troops, from Gradacac on Bosnia's northern border to Mostar in the south.

The Muslims are fast welding a messy patchwork of territories into a compact swathe of land more than 300km (186 miles) long. The two main Muslim armies in Bosnia, the 2nd Corps in the northern city of Tuzla and the 3rd Corps based in Zenica, are now united, with perilous consequences for the remaining Croatian enclaves in central Bosnia - in Vitez, Busovaca and Novi Travnik.

These isolated towns will almost certainly fall to the encircling Muslims during the winter, adding another 150,000 refugees to Croatia's teeming refugee camps and ending more than a thousand years of Croatian settlement in the region.

Although the future of the Bosnian Croats looks appalling the Bosnian Serbs also have cause for gloom. 'Now we have another 40 kilometres of frontline in eastern Bosnia to defend,' said an angry Serbian fighter in Sokolac, as he watched the weary column of Croatian refugees struggle over the hills from their fallen town into Serbian-held territory.

Some Bosnian Serbs said they were shocked by the fall of the town. 'Central Bosnia is Croat - it always was Croat]' spluttered Jelena, a Serb. 'Our side took only what belongs to us - the Muslims have no right to Vares.'

While the Croats controlled Vares, the area was a neutral zone. This enabled the Serbs to move much-needed troops from the border with Vares to more important battlefronts. Now the Serbs have a new and hostile front line while the Muslims are threatening the Serbs in Vogosca, the northern-most suburb of Sarajevo.

The fall of Vares is a feather in the cap of Bosnia's Muslim Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic. The success of the operation will convince President Alija Izetbegovic he was right to reject the Owen-Stoltenberg deal to partition Bosnia.