Nearly 200 die in Bosnia's other conflict: UN completes evacuation of wounded from Srebrenica as open warfare breaks out in Vitez and British soldiers run for cover

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BRITISH soldiers ran for cover yesterday in the central Bosnian town of Vitez as open warfare broke out between Muslim and Croatian forces, who are nominally allied against the Serbs. 'Shells are landing 150 metres away. We are getting into shelters,' said a spokesman at Vitez, where about 700 British troops are based with the UN Protection Force.

Fighting has raged for almost a week around Vitez between the Muslims and Croats, and each side has accused the other of burning down homes and expelling civilians. A British Army spokeswoman estimated that at least 150 people, and possibly 200, had been killed since Thursday.

'Our soldiers are seeing sights they have never seen before - children held in the arms of their mothers, shot; a boy carrying a puppy, both lying dead in the road,' said Lt-Col Bob Stewart, the commander of the Cheshire Regiment troops. 'The soldiers are carrying on magnificently. They are absolutely tired but remain utterly professional.'

A car-bomb exploded in the centre of Vitez on Sunday, killing three people. It is not known who was responsible.

The Muslim-Croat war is quite separate from the Serbian offensive against Srebrenica and other Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia. Bosnian Croat forces, armed and supported by the Croatian government in Zagreb, are trying to get full control of Bosnian areas that have been assigned to them under the international peace plan devised by Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen.

UN officials said that the clashes had spread to the town of Kiseljak, near Sarajevo, where at least six people had died and many more had been wounded. The town echoed to the sounds of artillery fire and mortar shells. Shelling was also reported last weekend in Konjic and Jablanica, 70 miles south of Vitez.

Sarajevo radio, which reflects the views of Bosnia's Muslim-led government, said last Friday that Croatian tanks adorned with the distinctive chequerboard Croatian flag were crushing pavements and traffic signs in Mostar, the main city in southern Bosnia. Before the war, Muslims formed a slightly larger proportion of Mostar's population than the Croats. But the Croats have declared the city the capital of their Bosnian mini-state, known as Herzeg-Bosnia, and use it as a base for their military operations against the Muslims.

The Croatian news agency, Hina, reported that three soldiers of the HVO, the Bosnian Croat army, had been injured in a hand grenade attack in Mostar on Sunday after clashes broke out between Muslims and Croats. An HVO spokesman, Veso Vegar, said that Muslim fighters had expelled Croats from seven villages around Konjic.

'Their plan is to ethnically cleanse the areas where Croats have been living for centuries,' he said.

The Muslim-Croat fighting demonstrates that the Bosnian war is not a clear-cut case of Serbian aggression against Muslims. Although Muslims and Croats in northern Bosnia have fought side by side against the Serbs, they are at loggerheads in the centre and south. Muslim leaders suspect that the Serbs and Croats, despite the fact that they are sworn enemies elsewhere, have agreed to carve up Bosnia at the expense of the Muslims.