Many dead as Croats renew Maglaj assault: Fighting intensifies in central Bosnia as Morillon's men are trapped in their base by troops demanding the release of comrades

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The Independent Online
FIERCE fighting raged around Maglaj and Zavidovici yesterday and Croat forces reported heavy civilian and military casualties in the battle for the central Bosnian towns.

The Croat forces (HVO) in Zagreb said that the 111th HVO Brigade had lost 40 dead and 100 wounded in fighting for the Maglaj salient 80km (50 miles) north of Sarajevo. The HVO said the Croat brigade had taken 3,000 soldiers of the Muslim- led Bosnian army prisoner. Sarajevo radio reported hand-to-hand fighting in Maglaj yesterday and said a Serb- Croat force backed by 25 tanks and 10 Howitzers was attacking the town.

Maglaj authorities appealed for help from UN peace-keepers and the Bosnian government, and called on the UN Security Council to declare the town a 'safe area' like six besieged Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia. The radio said part of Maglaj was on fire and heavy shelling was preventing the defenders from removing the dead and wounded.

About 35,000 people are believed to be in the town, which was cut off last week by a joint Serb-Croat offensive. Croat radio said Muslim reinforcements were attacking Croat and Serb forces on all fronts near Maglaj, Zavidovici and Zepce.

Bosnian Croat troops yesterday blockaded the UN's headquarters in Bosnia, while fierce fighting exploded in Sarajevo, closing the airport as Muslim forces launched an attack against the Serbs surrounding the city and the Serbs responded with artillery, mortars and infantry.

The Bosnian Croat HVO used trucks to block both entrances to the UN headquarters at Kiseljak, 40km (25 miles) south-east of Vitez, the base for the outgoing UN commander, Lieutenant-General Philippe Morillon. Kiseljak controls all five elements of the UN's Bosnia-Herzegovina command: the four big battalions (British, Canadian, French and Spanish) and the mixed force in Sarajevo. The Bosnian Croats were apparently trying to persuade the UN to do more to obtain the release of two HVO commanders who are trapped in the Canadian headquarters at Visoko by the Muslim-led Bosnian national army (BiH). The HVO officers went to the Canadian camp two days ago to negotiate with the BiH, who then left and refused to let the HVO commanders out. The HVO in Kiseljak are themselves encircled by the Muslims, who, in turn, are ultimately surrounded by Serbs.

The deputy chief of staff at Kiseljak, Belgian Colonel Hertog, negotiated with the HVO to try to get the barricades removed. Although vehicles could not enter or leave the base, people could still come and go on foot and the HVO were reported to be acting politely. The timing was embarrassing as the new commander in Bosnia, Belgian Lieutenant-General Paul Briquemont, is due to arrive at Kiseljak this morning to begin taking over command from Gen Morillon.

Another embarrassment for Gen Morillon was an intense artillery assault on Fojnica on Saturday. Last week he visited the town, which was under joint Croat and Muslim government, hailing it as an example to be emulated and a 'haven of peace'. But 300 shells have landed in or near the town since Saturday.

The Croats and Serbs seem to have worked out a plan for dividing Bosnia which takes no account of the Muslims, who have to go somewhere, though neither Serb nor Croat wishes to give the matter any attention.

Elsewhere in central Bosnia the BiH is doing better. On Saturday, the map in the HVO headquarters at Busovaca, which controls the HVO in the Lasva Valley area, where the British are based, showed blue symbols - the 'enemy' - all round Vitez and Busovaca. The BiH has been west, north and east of these two Croat enclaves for a long time, but by the weekend it had clearly extended its influence to the south as well.

Meanwhile, in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo, two policemen were wounded, one seriously, in a grenade attack, the Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency reported yesterday. The attack occurred near the town of Pec shortly before midnight on Saturday, when two grenades were thrown at a police patrol post.

(Photograph omitted)