Guns fall silent on static battle-lines across Bosnia

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The Independent Online
AS the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the area around Sarajevo or into areas where they can be supervised continued yesterday, the other fronts in Bosnia were also unusually quiet, except for the Bihac pocket and the key Muslim town of Tuzla.

Most significant was a reduction in the normally intense shelling in Mostar, which has lasted for some days. The Croats want to capture east Mostar to use as the capital of their proposed mini- state of Herzeg-Bosnia and were firing between 50 and 100 shells a day into the Muslim ghetto. On Thursday there were just six rounds fired and yesterday, three. United Nations sources could offer no explanation as to why the Croats had eased off, but a desire not to divert attention from the developments around Sarajevo might be the reason.

The most notable fighting occurred in the Bihac pocket, where two breakaway Muslim brigades under Colonel Fikret Abdic have been shelling V Corps under General Suleiman Dudakovic in the most bizarre permutation of the war: Muslims colluding with the surrounding Serbs against other Muslims. Yesterday the situation remained 'tense', according to the UN, although the feuding Muslim factions met at French battalion headquarters in Bihac.

There was also a flurry of activity around Tuzla, the big Muslim city in the north which is likely to be the next focus of world attention if Sarajevo is demilitarised. Two hundred and forty-seven rounds were fired on Thursday, including a few which landed close to the airfield, and there was intense machine-gun and rifle fire.

Across Bosnia, the battle-lines have been largely static for months. The Serbs and Croats have on the whole achieved the positions they want, apart from what intelligence officers call 'tidying up'. The Croats would like to link up with their two enclaves around Vitez and Kiseljak, but lack the strength to do so.

Because the Vitez pocket has been quiet, the British have felt confident in moving two companies of Coldstream Guards to Sarajevo to help monitor the demilitarisation. One company, No 2, arrived in Sarajevo yesterday. There was sporadic fighting near Santici, a hamlet east of Vitez where the Muslims have pushed south to cut the road running through the pocket which forms the UN supply route codenamed 'Pacman'.

As the ceasefire around Sarajevo continued to hold, military observers have begun to address the next step. It is possible that the Serbs have given way on Sarajevo in order to consolidate elsewhere. The Bosnian Serbs are believed to have deployed about 500 of their total of 800 guns and mortars around Sarajevo, and the removal of some of them could greatly increase the Serbs' strength elsewhere. With several hundred more guns, the Serbs could make a great impact in other areas. The UN will be watching closely how many are corralled in locations in Sarajevo and how many are moved out of the 20-kilometre area.

(Photograph omitted)