Croats gather strength in Bosnia: CSCE meeting in Helsinki plans missions to trouble spots - Zagreb threat to Sarajevo as troops close in

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EVEN as the world moved closer towards determined military intervention in Bosnia, Croatian forces appeared yesterday to be flexing their muscles near the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Fred Eckhard, the United Nations spokesman in Sarajevo, said that heavy overnight shelling of Serbian positions might have come from a 'third party' - in other words, not the Bosnian defenders of Sarajevo - and talked pointedly of 'persistent reports' of Croats moving closer and closer to the city. The Croats have made considerable gains in recent weeks.

Relief flights into the city continued, but Mr Eckhard described the operation as 'terribly fragile'. A Canadian soldier from the UN peace-keeping force was seriously wounded when he stepped on a mine, and was due to be evacuated to Zagreb. Overnight, three vehicles in the UN compound in Sarajevo were hit by mortars.

But, though the battles continued to be fierce, there were some small signs of hope. The first supplies yesterday reached the district of Butmir, near the airport, which has seen no food for weeks.

The announcement by France that it plans to send nine military helicopters and the declaration by President George Bush - attending the summit of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in Helsinki - that relief supplies must be delivered to Sarajevo 'no matter what it takes' were a clear reminder of how much more ready the West now is to talk tough, and to back words with actions. This change of tack comes after the West had sought, in effect, to ignore the problems of Sarajevo for the past two months.

The Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, who was in Helsinki for the CSCE summit, said he was pleased with the American response. 'President Bush hasn't ruled out military intervention. That was enough for me at this time.'

Serbian leaders in Bosnia again sought to sound doveish, even as fighting in Sarajevo flared up yesterday afternoon. Radovan Karadzic and his colleagues talked of what the Belgrade news agency, Tanjug, called their 'firm resolve to bring about an immediate and unconditional halt to military operations, in particular around the Sarajevo region.'

The EC peace negotiator on Yugoslavia, Lord Carrington, flew to New York for talks at the UN on what to do next. Already, the baton seems to be passing away from Lord Carrington and his EC- sponsored talks towards the UN. Lord Carrington said that he wanted to reconvene the faltering EC conference in London soon. He added that a change of regime in Belgrade would improve chances for peace. European schizophrenia with regard to the conflict in former Yugoslavia was once again clearly displayed. The European Parliament in Strasbourg called for EC humanitarian aid to be given to Macedonia. And yet, Macedonia's greatest needs at the moment are not humanitarian, but diplomatic. At the EC summit in Lisbon last month, European leaders went back on previous pledges to the Macedonian leaders, and bowed to the Greek insistence that the former Yugoslav republic must not be recognised unless it changes its name. The Greeks want Macedonia to be called 'Skopje'.

Macedonian time bomb, page 21

(Photograph omitted)