Rose accuses Muslims of trickery over Gorazde

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The United Nations commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, was embroiled in controversy yesterday after he accused Bosnia's Muslim-led government of allowing the eastern enclave of Gorazde to fall to the Serbs in order to provoke UN intervention on the Muslim side.

Bosnian Muslim officials denounced General Rose's remarks, while the Bosnian Serbs, mindful of his recent efforts to secure Nato air strikes against them, were unpersuaded of his impartiality in the conflict.

A UN Protection Force spokesman, Eric Chaperon, said General Rose had been merely 'theorising' when he said on Wednesday that the Muslims had deliberately let Gorazde's defences collapse and that they had lied about the casualty figures and degree of damage to the town. General Rose's comments were released on a videotape to reporters in Sarajevo on Wednesday evening, a move that Mr Chaperon described as unauthorised.

Although General Rose attacked the media yesterday for reporting 'tittle-tattle' and 'part conversations', it appeared that he had indeed been speaking his mind when he criticised the Muslim tactics. He was echoing the view of many outside military analysts, who say that the single most consistent feature of the war is the duplicity employed by all sides.

General Rose, who visited Gorazde on Wednesday, said on the videotape: 'The situation was a lot better than I had been led to believe. There was obviously damage to the town, and you can't fight a battle around a town without there being damage. But the town had not been destroyed to the level which I had expected.'

He added that he had spoken to Gorazde's hospital director, who had told him that the UN casualty figures of 700 killed and 2,000 wounded since the battle erupted in late March were exaggerated. General Rose said that, among wounded Muslims evacuated in UN helicopters this week, there were 'young men who hopped off the stretcher and went into town'.

The truth about what happened in Gorazde is elusive. From 29 March, the Serbs were accusing the Muslims of launching infantry attacks from the enclave as part of a 'spring offensive' intended to recapture positions lost to the Serbs after April 1992.

The Serbs believed the Muslims had grown in confidence since ending their war with the Croats and forming a joint federation with the implicit ambition of rolling back Serbian gains. That confidence was reinforced by a feeling that, under US guidance, Nato was adopting a more interventionist, anti-Serbian policy in the war.

From the Muslim perspective, the battle of Gorazde was part of a remorseless Serbian effort to extinguish the remaining Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia and consolidate the territory of 'Greater Serbia'. On 1 April, Muslim-controlled Sarajevo radio said that 'the streets of Gorazde and its outskirts are again awash with blood'.

In the first days of the battle, UN military staff said privately that they believed the Muslim defences could hold out. Although they subsequently revised that assessment, General Rose said on Wednesday that Gorazde's defenders 'basically turned and ran and left us to pick up the pieces'.

His remarks reflected a widespread perception that the Bosnian leadership is tempted to sacrifice civilian populations either in order to bring the West into the war or to make the UN lift its arms embargo on the Muslims. A similar impatience with the Muslims, found among UN and European mediators, is based on the view that they are interested not in negotiating peace but in prolonging the war in the belief that time is on their side.

The dispute over casualties is more easily explained. Figures supplied by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) rose from 52 dead and 249 wounded on 5 April, to 156 dead and 646 wounded on 11 April, to 700 killed and 2,000 wounded on 25 April.

However, UN officials said yesterday the battle had rapidly become so intense that UNHCR staff in Gorazde had been prevented from leaving their shelters to verify casualty numbers. As a result, they were reporting figures given to them by local authorities with an interest in exaggeration.

'Our estimates were coming mainly from the local medical agencies. In many cases we were not able to verify the number of wounded,' said a UNHCR spokesman, Peter Kessler. He added that the UNHCR still stood by its estimates. A Bosnian Serb spokesman, Jovan Zametica, said: 'Once again the international community has been taken for a ride by the Muslims. And not just the Muslims. Various Gorazde-based humanitarian organisations have aided and abetted the Muslim propaganda effort.'