Rebel fighters gain in Muslim power-struggle: Celia Hall reports on the most baffling war of all in former Yugoslavia

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The Independent Online
MUSLIM is fighting Muslim; the most baffling war in the former Yugoslavia escalated this week when forces of the separatist businessman Fikret Abdic gained a 10km strip of territory in Bihac in north-western Bosnia from forces loyal to the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo.

Mr Abdic, the millionaire president of the 'Autonomous Region of West Bosnia', says the fighting is not about territorial gains and losses but is aimed at liberating the region in accordance with the wishes of Bihac's inhabitants.

In a complicated theatre, Bihac is very complicated indeed. Under heavy snow, this war zone looks like a beautiful Christmas card - although the hospitals tell a different story.

To the north and west is Serb-held Krajina and beyond that Croatia; to the south, Bosnian territory controlled by the Fifth Corps loyal to the President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic. At the weekend Mr Abdic's forces broke through territory under Croatian control, pushing the Fifth Corps back towards the south of Bihac. Mr Abdic's troops hold about a third of the enclave.

UN observers in Bihac say fighting has escalated in the past two weeks. In a small hospital in Cazin, a town held by the Fifth Corps, 10 to 20 wounded a day are being treated. On one day Cazin changed hands, and changed back again. In his industrial stronghold in the mountains of Velika Kladusa, Mr Abdic said Mr Izetbegovic had refused all invitations to talk.

At the headquarters of his huge Agrokomerc company, once one of the biggest employers in all former Yugoslavia, it is cold.

Mr Abdic is surrounded by guards, armed soldiers at the gate, more in the lobby. One asks visitors courteously in English if they are carrying guns. Mr Abdic wears a black suit, a white shirt, a blue tie. He offers coffee, tea, juice, whisky. Twice the lights fail before the generators come on. The Fifth Corps has cut the supply lines, Mr Abdic says.

'If Izetbegovic would accept the principle of autonomous Bosnia the fighting would stop.' He does not smile at all. 'There is now no policy as such. Now we have just military. It is the commanders and extremists of the Fifth Corps.'

UN refugee officials in Kladusa say much the same: these are power struggles. Even more confusingly, a soldier wounded in the stomach and neck from the other side says something similar.

Nermin Kulenovic, normally a restaurateur in Bihac town, in Fifth Corps country, says he does not want to fight his friends in Kladusa. In the cold hospital in Bihac he shows a photo of his pretty wife and daughter, safe with friends in Berlin. 'I was drinking coffee with my friends before. I want all of Bihac to be free.'