Depleted Serbs set their sights on new targets

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The Independent Online
BELGRADE - The emasculation of Gorazde as a Muslim enclave has left General Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb army, fast running out of time and strategic targets in Bosnia, writes Emma Daly.

The three-week Serbian offensive was successful in neutralising any pretensions the Bosnian army might have had for using the town as a springboard for attacks on surrounding Serbian territory. But the Serbs appear to have been stopped short of total victory: control over the road through Gorazde which links Serbian gains in eastern and south- western Bosnia.

The Bosnian army appears to still hold part of the road, leaving in government hands an asset which, while marked down, would be a significant chip at the negotiating table.

The inconclusive result at Gorazde, and the renewed diplomatic offensive leave both sides - particularly the Serbs - with a powerful incentive to take the fight elsewhere in an attempt to strengthen their negotiating position. 'It's the hot-cold approach,' said Milos Vasic, a military analyst in Belgrade. 'You hit somewhere, take as much as you can, then sit down and negotiate. It's too dangerous to hit a UN 'safe area' (which are protected by the threat of Nato air strikes) . . . so they will try to widen the (Brcko) corridor.'

Brcko is a dangerous place. The narrow strip of territory, running east-west along the Sava river border between Croatia and northern Bosnia, is a vital link between Serbian lands in eastern Bosnia and those around Banja Luka in the north. But a corridor running north to south instead would connect central Bosnia, held by a shaky alliance of Bosnian Muslim and Croatian forces, to Croatia proper. As Predrag Simic, a political analyst in Belgrade, said: 'Both sides have good reasons to make Brcko their next target.'

Although there are no confirmed reports of troop movements in the Brcko area, Mr Vasic and other analysts believe the Bosnian Serbs may be preparing the ground for an offensive there. Two weeks ago, General Manojlo Milovanovic, the Bosnian Serb chief of staff, hinted at a desire to expand the corridor, which is only 1.3km wide in some places.

The Bosnian Serbs, who are physically and financially depleted, need a settlement soon. 'With the passing of time, they can only lose,' said Mr Simic. 'The Bosnian Serbs hold 70 per cent of Bosnia but they have no mines, no industry, no big cities. The Muslims are in a much better position qualitatively.'

(Map omitted)