Muslim stand-off in Bihac rebellion

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The Independent Online
THE embattled government of President Alija Izetbegovic showed no sign yeserday of being able to crush a revolt against Sarajevo rule by fellow Muslims in the Bihac region of north-west Bosnia, despite a lull in fighting between Muslim, Croatian and Serbian forces.

The Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje yesterday reported that a column of supporters of Mr Izetbegovic's bitter rival, Fikret Abdic, composed mainly of workers from Mr Abdic's meat-packing factory in the town of Velika Kladusa, had marched on the nearby town of Cazin and seized control of the local radio station.

The rebels at the same time expelled units of the Bosnian army's Fifth Corps from Velika Kladusa and forced them to retreat to Bihac. Sarajevo radio accused the rebels of torturing members of the Bosnian army who had failed to escape from the town in time. They cited the presence of Croatian television crews as proof that Croatia is behind the revolt against Sarajevo rule in the Bihac area.

The head of the Muslim-led Bosnian army, General Rasim Delic, said that army units loyal to Sarajevo held the largest part of the Bihac pocket, where Mr Abdic has proclaimed his autonomous region. He said that the army's Fifth Corps was in full control of Bihac and Bosanska Krupa. The Bosnian general admitted that the region's police force, believed to number up to 2,000 armed men, was largely on the side of Mr Abdic, but he insisted that the army would remain loyal to Sarajevo.

The Bosnian government yesterday appealed to 'progressive and patriotic forces' to throw out Mr Abdic and said that 'foreign agents and occupiers' had taken control of Velika Kladusa. They declared the self-proclaimed parliament of the Autonomous Region of Western Bosnia an illegal body.

United Nations forces in Bihac yesterday said there was stalemate in the pocket, with neither pro- Izetbegovic army units nor pro- Abdic police forces making any move to trigger bloodshed. Mr Izetbegovic fired Mr Abdic from Bosnia's collective presidency on Wednesday after he announced the creation of the autonomous province on Croatian Radio.

The two men are old rivals for control of the Muslim-led Party of Democratic Action which Mr Izetbegovic now leads. In the Bosnian elections of 1990 Mr Abdic won more votes than Mr Izetbegovic for the post of president, but was pushed aside by Islamic hardliners who favoured Mr Izetbegovic.