Muslims dream of victory against the odds

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA'S civil war is medieval in its scale and character, with minor potentates amassing territory through deals, terror and sporadic fighting, observed by British United Nations forces.

Near Zepce the British UN troops have established a 24-hour observation post, armed with a portable surveillance and target-

acquisition radar. It can detect individuals beyond rifle range and small groups up to about 6km

(3.7 miles) away. From a commanding position it will spot any military movement in an area 24km wide.

As Bosnian Serb forces assail the Gorazde pocket, killing about 50 Bosnian government troops and wounding 150 out of a defending force of 10,000 in eight days, numerous battles on a similar scale have been taking place elsewhere, closely observed by UN troops. Earlier this week the mainly Muslim BiH army suffered 36 casualties in a costly engagement, after they launched an attack near Zavidovici, on the eastern edge of the Serb-besieged 'Maglaj finger'.

To the east, the Serbs hold a ridge. A good road runs across the bottom, which the BiH army want dearly. If they seize it, it would link Zenica with Tuzla - the two biggest Muslim strongholds in central Bosnia. This is the aim of the BiH push in the area, although there are other concerns - Muslim villages taken by the Serbs which they want to recapture.

There are members of the BiH army who think, now they are no longer fighting the Croats, they can win the war against the Serbs. The UN is sure they cannot and are trying to get the message home - a task which has become urgent following the latest Serb demand for a comprehensive peace.

Yesterday, heading north from Zenica to Zepce I passed about 200 BiH troops - a considerable number for this war - moving north. It was a planned concentration. They were probably heading to attack the Serbs surrounding Maglaj. They seemed cheerful and many carried umbrellas against the sleet and rain.

Between Zepce and Zavidovici the Light Dragoons are based in a factory. Sergeant Gary Taylor of 2 Troop, C Squadron, was ordered on patrol to check reports of undeclared weapons in the UN-patrolled exclusion zone, where Bosnian Croat HVO and BiH forces recently had been at war. Then they were to visit the frontline where the BiH were fighting the Bosnian Serbs.

We found no undeclared weapons, but we did find a local commander's headquarters and a BiH officer, Safet Sivro. He agreed to take us to the front line. His Volkswagen Golf tore ahead up a mountain track through mud and snow. As a blizzard gathered momentum, the Dragoons' Scimitar light tank and spartan Armoured Personnel Carrier were hard put to keep up.

We reached Zuber mountain, 9km south-east of Zavidovici, which the Serbs had held until the BiH drove them out in a one-hour battle four days ago. The Serbs were less than a mile away the Commander said. This was as far as we could go.

'They had an anti-aircraft gun up there,' he added. 'We needed to do something because we needed the road very badly. We need the road to evacuate wounded and, for the people in those villages, this is the only way they can get to Zavidovici.'

He said the Serbs had four tanks in the area. The BiH had none. Asked if he was now expecting active support from his new allies, the HVO, he grimaced and said no. 'We don't need them, and if they don't attack us, that's enough support,' he said. 'If we hadn't had to fight them, we'd have seen the Serbs off long ago.'

(Photograph omitted)