Croats and Serbs launch joint attack: Former enemies in Bosnia declare that their war is over for good

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The Independent Online
SERBS and Croats launched a joint offensive against the Muslim-held town of Maglaj in central Bosnia at the weekend as their officers announced an end to hostilities between the two former enemies.

At a meeting of reconciliation near Konjic in south-west Bosnia, Croat officers declared that war with Serbs in the region was over for good, and thanked them for saving the lives of thousands of Croats in villages attacked by Muslims.

'The time when Croat and Serb soldiers looked at each other down the barrel of a gun is over,' said Dragan Juric, a local Croat commander. 'The Croat population and army in this area simply would have been destroyed if the Serbs had not held out the hand of salvation,' added Dragan Simunovic, the Croat commander in Konjic. He praised the Serbs for lending Croats vital artillery in villages besieged by Muslims.

The Neretva valley in south-west Bosnia was the scene of a brutal territorial contest between Serbs and Croats last year, centred on the regional capital, Mostar.

But both sides now want to hasten a carve-up of Bosnia and have joined forces against the Muslims, the last embattled champions of a unified Bosnian state.

In Muslim-held Maglaj dozens of people were killed and wounded in shelling at the weekend, Sarajevo radio reported. Clashes were also reported between Muslims and Croats in Zepce and Zavidovic in central Bosnia.

The fighting prompted the commander of the Muslim-led Bosnian army, Rasim Delic, to warn that a general escalation of the conflict was imminent. He called on United Nations peace-keepers in Bosnia to enforce an earlier ceasefire agreement.

But in a diplomatic counter-blast, the Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, threatened to end hospitality to the Muslim-led Bosnian government. In a letter to the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, Mr Tudjman reminded him that Bosnian officials hold many of their top-level meetings in Croatia, and usually travel to and from besieged Sarajevo via Zagreb.

'Croatia will not allow Mr Izetbegovic and his clique to sit in Croatia like pashas and prepare plots against us,' the commnder of the Croatian army, General Janko Bobetko, added.

The international mediators Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg are expected to resume talks on the three- way partition of Bosnia with the Bosnian presidency today in Geneva. But with President Izetbegovic steadfastly refusing to attend, a breakthrough seems remote.

Internal splits in the Bosnian presidency over whether to enter partition talks have the left the mediators unsure with whom they should negotiate. Mr Izetbegovic has refused to leave Sarajevo to attend talks. Fikret Abdic, his rival in the presidency, refuses to go to Sarajevo. Explaining his reluctance to travel to the Bosnian capital, Mr Abdic accused his rivals of attempting his assassination six times.

To add to the confusion, Austrian officials have announced they are investigating charges that Mr Abdic made off with 100m Austrian schillings (about pounds 6m) collected by Bosnian Muslims for aid.

(Photograph omitted)