Rival Muslims battle on in Bihac

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FIGHTING between rival Bosnian Muslim forces went into

its fourth successive day yesterday, violating a United Nations- brokered ceasefire. The clashes pit the Bosnian government army against units loyal to Fikret Abdic, a Muslim politician and business tycoon based in the Bihac area of north-western Bosnia.

The government army's Fifth Corps scored a significant success on Monday by capturing up to 300 pro-Abdic fighters in an advance on the town of Pecigrad. The pro- government Sarajevo radio said that Fifth Corps troops had entered a number of villages in the municipality of Velika Kladusa, Mr Abdic's stronghold.

The Bihac area is surrounded by two sets of Serbian forces: the Bosnian Serbs, and Serbs from the rebel Krajina region of Croatia. The Bosnian government says Mr Abdic's rebellion could not have sustained itself without Serbian assistance.

Mr Abdic broke with the Sarajevo-based government of President Alija Izetbegovic last September, accusing it of arrogance and intransigence. A former prominent Communist who was imprisoned in the 1980s on suspicion of corruption, Mr Abdic is popular in the Bihac area because of the relative prosperity it has enjoyed thanks to his ingenious business activities.

Mr Abdic was not invited to the ceasefire talks in Geneva last week and hence did not sign the one- month truce. UN officials believe it is necessary to bring Mr Abdic into the negotiating process, but the Bosnian government brands him as a despicable traitor and may resist the idea.

While the inter-Muslim fighting continued, Russia warned the United States against lifting the UN arms embargo on the Bosnian government. 'If each of the great powers unilaterally supports its clients, it could result in a war, not just a war in former Yugoslavia but a global confrontation,' said the Russian Foreign Minister,

Andrei Kozyrev.

The US House of Representatives voted last week to order President Bill Clinton to end the embargo on the Bosnian government. Although Mr Clinton personally used to favour lifting the ban, the White House now opposes such a step on the grounds that it could derail international mediation efforts.

Mr Kozyrev balanced his remarks with a warning to the Bosnian Serbs that they would have to relinquish some conquered land if they wanted continued diplomatic support from Russia. 'You cannot control 70 per cent of the territory by force as you do now,' he told the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, in Moscow.

Russia, the European Union and the United States are putting the finishing touches to a plan that would give 51 per cent of Bosnia to the Muslim-Croat alliance and almost all the rest to the Bosnian Serbs. 'Grey zones' would be created, either under UN control or under the joint authority of the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs, to which Muslim and Croat refugees could return.