On Sunday night seven British SAS men deployed in the pocket to call in air strikes walked out of Gorazde and were picked up by a French Puma helicopter and taken to Sarajevo.
One of their colleagues was killed on Friday, prompting Archie Hamilton, a former defence minister, to call for the withdrawal of British troops. But the Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, said the soldiers would stay in Bosnia, although events in Gorazde had been 'a serious setback for the UN peace-keeping efforts in Bosnia and will have grim consequences for the people of Gorazde'.
He said there were 200,000 heavily armed Bosnian Croat, Serb and Muslim forces and only 15,000 UN peace-keepers and that some people had 'quite unrealistic expectations of what could be achieved by air power alone or by ground forces not equipped or organised for a combat role'.
Yesterday, the Bosnian Serbs had taken all the high ground around Gorazde. Bosnian Serb tanks continued to probe the centre of the town, although the main Serbian lines remain just outside it. At one stage artillery rounds were falling every 20 seconds. A warehouse used by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been burned down. The Serbs want to control and use the main road through the town which runs from Serbia to the sea. To do that they need to clear the mainly Muslim population and the Bosnian army from the area south of the road and a few hundred metres north of it.
On Sunday night the UN command in Bosnia broadcast that Gorazde had effectively fallen, although fighting continued yesterday. According to the official UN intelligence report, 'by late afternoon (Sunday) the town was almost completely surrounded and all BiH (Bosnian army) resistance had evaporated'. The resistance was 'sporadic, unorganised and completely ineffective'.
The Bosnian Serbs have about seven tanks and the Bosnian army and people of Gorazde have nothing comparable. The wartime population of Gorazde was about 65,000, but in the last week the Serbs have torched 18 villages in the surrounding area, sending some 15,000 refugees fleeing to the town. The UNHCR estimates that half the total population of Gorazde is made up of 'displaced persons'.
Unless the Serbs are forced to give up their gains, those people face a choice of being starved and shelled whenever the Serbs think fit or being evacuated in the largest exodus seen in the Bosnian or Croatian wars. The nearest comparison is the Croatian town of Vukovar which fell to the Serbs on 19 November 1991. The vast majority of its 12,000 inhabitants were allowed to leave, although more than 200 are believed to have been executed.
But evacuating 65,000 to 80,000 refugees would pose an enormous problem to the UN; the only safe place for them would be central Bosnia, a small area which has already absorbed hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Furthermore, the refugees' safety there would depend on the long-term success of the Muslim-Croat ceasefire.
That truce continues to hold; however, in Zepce there were sinister signs of continuing hostility, as Croats burned houses belonging to Muslims who are starting to return under the agreed policy of free movement. They had been left intact so that Croats might move in, but are being destroyed now that Muslims are coming back.
Crushed in Gorazde, the Bosnian army appears to be poised to launch an offensive north of Maglaj, near the Serb-held town of Doboj. The Maglaj area, which extends into Serb-held territory, is patrolled by British troops. On Sunday, a reconnaissance party came under heavy Serbian mortar fire near Doboj. A local guide was killed and the team was trapped until after dark. US A-6 aircraft were called in to buzz the mortar position, but could not find a clear target.
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