Heavy casualties in fierce fighting near Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - Fighting raged in Sarajevo yesterday despite a Christmas ceasefire and Muslim-led government troops suffered heavy casualties in clashes with Serbian infantry north of the city.

The sound of artillery, machine-gun and small-arms fire echoed through the hills above Sarajevo and hospitals in the besieged Bosnian capital reported six dead and 31 wounded in the fighting.

Bosnian army soldiers said Serbian forces had captured two Bosnian trenches in the Vogosca battle zone and government troops were counter-attacking. Many of the dead and wounded were soldiers from the fighting in Vogosca.

The Christmas holiday truce, which was supposed to last until 15 January, has had virtually no effect on fighting in Bosnia. The ceasefire was agreed by Serbian, Croatian and Muslim leaders at peace talks last week, but it has crumbled like all Bosnian truces that preceded it.

In northern Bosnia, the Muslim-led army launched an attack on Serbian positions north-east of Tuzla.

A spokeswoman for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Alemka Lisinski, said Croatian border police had started blocking UN aid convoys bound for neighbouring Bosnia.

Convoys setting out from the UN's main supply warehouse in Metkovic on Croatia's coast were turned back by Croatian police at the nearby boundary with Bosnia on Sunday, Ms Lisinski said.

Police let one convoy through yesterday for the Muslim enclave of Jablanica after a two-hour delay, but were still barring two others destined for areas held by Croat militias. Ms Lisinski said Croatian police had not explained the delays other than to cite unspecified changes in rules.

Harassment of convoys on Croatia's side of the border was largely unknown until now, said Manuel Almeida, spokesman for the UNHCR's special representative to former Yugoslavia. 'We have been taken with complete surprise given the previous cooperation of Croatian government authorities,' Mr Almeida said from UNHCR's regional headquarters in Croatia.

Among yesterday's civilian wounded in Sarajevo were five workers from the city's television station who were hit by Serb fire while travelling to work in a van down a notorious stretch of city roadway known locally as 'sniper's alley'.