Muslim victory makes allies of former foes: Bosnian Serbs take in Croats expelled after onslaught on Travnik

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serbs claimed they were caring for more than 7,000 Croatian refugees including 1,000 fighters from the HVO, the Bosnian Croat army, after Muslims expelled Croat forces in a vicious struggle for control of Travnik in central Bosnia.

The Bosnian Serb announcement is a watershed in the war in Bosnia. It is tantamount to a declaration of friendship between two peoples who were until recently bitter enemies in Bosnia and Croatia, and it comes at a time when talk of rapprochement between Croatia and Serbia is ever louder.

In a statement, the Bosnian Serb army, based in Banja Luka, said a total of 7,000 Croats were sheltering in Serb-held Vlasic, a few miles north of Travnik. 'Our Serbian units are investing all their efforts in feeding and watering these hungry and thirsty mouths,' the statement said. 'There is a big danger of a Muslim attack on these refugees.'

The Bosnian Serb army said the Croat refugees had brought 'shaking accounts of the beastliness of the Muslim forces, who under the command of Colonel Mehmed Alagic have practically completed the ethnic cleansing of Travnik'.

The Bosnian Croat leader, Mate Boban, accused the victorious Muslims of committing atrocities against the remaining Croats in the town, and of imprisoning several hundred Croats in a camp.

The battle for Travnik was a rare victory for Bosnian Muslims, after 14 months of fighting and a more or less continuous loss of territory.

Yesterday the Bosnian Muslim presidency replaced Sefer Halilovic as head of the army, but gave no reason for his dismissal. He is replaced by Rasim Delic, a former head of strategic planning. Analysts in Sarajevo said Mr Halilovic had not had conspicuous military success or succeeded in unifying the army.

Fights between the Croats and Muslims - former allies who are now mortal enemies - continued in outlying villages of Travnik yesterday. The fall of the town to the Bosnian Muslims threatens the already rather shaky hold of the Bosnian Croats over a string of nearby towns in central Bosnia, stretching from Novi Travnik to Kiseljak near Sarajevo.

The price of the victory will be atrocious relations with Croatia, where several hundred thousand Bosnian Muslims are refugees, and the heightened possibility of an outright military alliance springing up between Bosnian Serbs and Croats.

Until the war, Travnik was an ethnically mixed community. Bosnian Muslims made up 40 per cent of the population, Croats 35 per cent and Serbs the rest. Under the Vance-Owen plan for Bosnia, Travnik would have been the capital of a Croat-dominated province and at the beginning of the war, Croat domination was not seriously contested. But Croat control was shattered by an influx of thousands of radicalised Muslim refugees from Serb-held parts of Bosnia. They transformed the old ethnic balance and - ultimately - the military balance of power.

(Photograph omitted)

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