Guards take the strain in Vitez: Christopher Bellamy meets the Coldstream Guards in Vitez

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The Independent Online
'CHEER up, Taylor, think of all the money you're saving here.' 'Sir.' The gleaming sergeant-major disappeared into his house, seemingly unaffected by the mist and mud. The young men on guard at the 'sangar', the north-west frontier name for a pill-box, had been here for two weeks yesterday. They arrived with the Coldstream Guards advance party and expect to be here six months.

Now all the guards are here and yesterday, at 07.30 on a chilly misty morning, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Williams, of the guards, shook hands with Alastair Duncan, of the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment Of Yorkshire, at the gate to the increasingly fortress-like British camp round the former school at Vitez, and assumed command. They slid in a new sign: 'Welcome to Vitez. Home base, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards group.' The last of the outgoing battalion, the PWO, will leave tomorrow morning.

Col Williams takes command at a difficult time. The people and local military command in Vitez are convinced the Bosnian army is about to launch its long-awaited assault on this isolated Croatian pocket.

There has been a wave of theft and violence, with petrol disappearing from UN military vehicles, as if the locals feel they no longer have anything to lose. They have attempted to get into the British UN base and just outside it, on Thursday night, a journalist was clubbed.

On the other side of the lines, in Zenica, there was disorder as the Bosnian army's 7th brigade, exultant after its victory at Vares, fired in the air and some of the more extreme elements, the so-called mujahedin, tried to smash shops selling alcohol. It looks as if the Bosnian army is moving this way.

The 550 Coldstream Guards form the core of the force here but depend on troops from many other regiments, including a number of Scots Guards. There are two companies, about 160 soldiers each, at Vitez, and the 120-strong battalion headquarters. The third company is to the south, at Gornji Vakuf, and there is a squadron of the light dragoons.

The Royal Engineers are much in evidence everywhere. At Vitez they are busy pouring gravel into a vast new wall along the north side of the camp. If the Bosnian army attacks the Vitez Croats, this is the direction from which they may come.

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