Muslim commander tells his forces to hold fire: New Bosnian chief orders end to bitter fighting with Croats in Travnik

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The Independent Online
THE new commander of Bosnia's Muslim-led army, Rasim Delic, yesterday ordered his forces immediately to stop fighting Croats in the Travnik region, Sarajevo radio reported. At the same time, Gen Delic called on Croat forces in the nearby town of Novi Travnik, where fighting erupted yesterday, to issue a similar ceasefire order, the radio said.

Gen Delic, who on Tuesday replaced Sefer Halilovic as head of the army, said he wanted the United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) to send military observers to the combat zones. Muslim forces over the weekend drove their former allies, the Croats, out of the central Bosnian town of Travnik. Yesterday, Muslim forces shelled Croats in the town of Novi Travnik, four miles away.

Before the order came the Muslim offensive was set to spread down the Lasva valley. With Travnik gone, the Muslim forces were already fanning out for attacks on remaining Bosnian Croat strongholds in the region. Novi Travnik, Busovaca and Vitez contain important arms factories which the Muslims would dearly like to get their hands on.

Kiseljak, 40 kms south-east of Travnik, would be the ideal launching pad to end the 14-month Serbian siege of Sarajevo. The town is a stronghold of the HVO, the Bosnian Croat army. Until now the Croats of Kiseljak and the Serbs ringing Sarajevo have never fired a shot at each other. If the Muslims capture the town, they will be perfectly placed to attack the Serbian-held Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza and break the siege of their capital.

A fight in central Bosnia became inevitable a year ago, when tens of thousands of Muslim refugees streamed south into traditional ethnic Croat territory, expelled from their homes in northern Bosnia in the first ferocious bout of ethnic cleansing. The influx shattered the ancient, fragile balance between the communities in mixed towns like Mostar, Bugojno and Travnik, just south of the Bosnian Serb front line. Muslims and Croats once were in equal numbers in Travnik. Now Muslims outnumber Croats four to one.

The ultimate victors of the battle of Travnik are not the Muslims at all, but the Bosnian Serbs. Comfortably in control of 70 per cent of Bosnia's territory, they can now sit back as spectators while the Croats and Muslims tear each other to pieces for the scrap of territory that remains.

With Croats and Muslims at each other's throats, the chance that these two former allies will ever renew the joint struggle against the Bosnian Serbs is zero.