Izetbegovic 'unlikely' to go to talks: Muslims strike back amid reports of alliance with Serbs in Mostar

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The Independent Online
ROCKETS and mortar bombs smashed into Sarajevo yesterday, four days before a new round of talks in Geneva that could decide on the ethnic partition of the republic.

The bombardment left seven dead and made it unlikely that Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, would attend the talks, now planned for Sunday, with his Serbian and Croatian enemies and the international mediators. 'Parents do not go away and leave their children when the house is on fire,' said Ejup Ganic, Bosnia's Vice-President.

In central Bosnia an all-out Muslim offensive pounded Croat-held Vitez and Bugojno. The attacks, the strongest to date, threatened Bosnian Croats with the loss of all their footholds in the region and endangered British United Nations forces stationed in Vitez.

In Sarajevo Mr Izetbegovic suggested that he might succumb to international pressure and go to Geneva. After meeting the Belgian Foreign Minister on Wednesday he said it was clear the European Community viewed talks as the only framework to end the fighting. But he made his attendance conditional on Serbs halting their attacks.

The Muslim-led Bosnian army yesterday claimed that the battle for Mount Igman outside Sarajevo ended in a rout of Serbs. They said they drove back a Serbian force of 15,000, backed with tanks and artillery. But one Bosnian commander admitted heavy loss of life among Muslim defenders.

The fight for the mountain, which guards the south-western approach to Sarajevo, spilled over into the city and abruptly ended a lull that had lured thousands of families on to the streets to enjoy the sunshine. The falling shells kept the city's population from what has become the number one task: getting water. Since Serbs cut power, water and gas supplies to Sarajevo six weeks ago most families have spent several hours daily wheeling buckets of water back to their appartment blocks from natural springs. Braving sniper fire and exploding shells, mothers and children clog the streets pushing wheelbarrows and supermarket trolleys loaded with plastic water cans.

In spite of a warning against drinking water from the well, hundreds of people in the old Ottoman quarter queued with buckets outside a pump in the courtyard of an old mosque.

Locals and politicians accuse the UN of delaying repairs to power lines to put pressure on Bosnian leaders to sign up for the partition of the republic. 'It is part of the orchestrated international campaign of pressure,' said Kemal Kurspahic, editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje.

He insisted the signature of the Bosnian government on a partition plan would not end the bloodshed. 'Wherever these ethnic borders are fixed new fighting will erupt, and more than a million people will still have to be moved from one side of the border to the other.'

But faced with the prospect of a further loss of territory, the Sarajevo authorities have little choice but to put away moral scruples and start talking. Their own population is war-weary. 'Any solution, so long as the fighting ends,' is the most common phrase to be heard on the streets. The outside world has long since ceased to view the war as a straight conflict between Bosnians and invading Serbs. In central Bosnia, Muslims are advancing on the ethnic Croatian towns, while in Mostar the United Nations confirmed that local Croats were supported by troops from Croatia proper.

Reports point to a new alliance between Muslims and Serbs against Croats in Mostar. The reports dovetail with a probable Serbian strategy of playing off Croats against Muslims, cementing Serbian control over the other two-thirds of Bosnia. The rumoured Serb-Muslim pact could add a savage new twist to the tortuous 16-month war.