Saving Sarajevo: 'Croats are the main victims'

CROATIA'S Foreign Minister, Mate Granic, accused Muslim forces yesterday of expelling 120,000 Croats from their homes in central Bosnia and of trapping almost 200,000 others in four vulnerable enclaves.

In an interview with the Independent in London, where he briefed British officials on the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia, he criticised Western countries for concentrating on the plight of the Muslims while ignoring the increasingly grim conditions facing Bosnia's Croats.

'The situation for the Croats in central Bosnia is really very difficult because for the last month they have had no help,' he said. 'I'm speaking about medicine and other humanitarian aid from Croatian-controlled parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Muslim forces are now engaged in a very strong offensive and have surrounded 190,000 Croats in four enclaves in central Bosnia.

'They have expelled 120,000 Croats from central Bosnia and have killed about 3,500 civilians. The Croats are actually the main victims of the war in Bosnia, and that is why we have the strongest interest in stopping the war.'

Croatian officials said the Muslim offensive had started in April and had led to the expulsion of 40,000 Croats from the Travnik area, 30,000 from Zenica, 16,000 from Kakanj, 12,000 from Konjic, 8,000 from Fojnica, 6,000 from parts of Mostar, 6,000 from parts of Novi Travnik and 2,000 from Jablanica. They said that the HVO, the Bosnian Croat armed forces, controlled only 9 per cent of Bosnian territory, compared with about 20 per cent before the Muslim offensive.

Although Muslim-led Bosnian government forces are fighting a rearguard action against the Serbs in Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia, they have recently inflicted a string of defeats on the Croats, their former allies. In the past month they have captured Bugojno and Gornji Vakuf, two important towns in central Bosnia. Croatian officials said the Muslims had conquered about half of the territory that had been assigned to the Croats under the now abandoned Vance-Owen peace plan for Bosnia.

Mr Granic said the Muslim forces had achieved their successes because they were more numerous than the Croats and were able to manufacture weapons. He also accused the Muslims of enlisting the support of more than 6,000 volunteers from Islamic countries. He said Croats were trapped in four areas in central Bosnia: 70,000 in the Novi Travnik-Vitez-Busovaca region, 60,000 in Zepce and Usora, 30,000 in Vares, and 30,000 in Kiseljak and Kresevo.

Mr Granic said Croatia had no desire to annex south-western Bosnia-Herzegovina, where local Croats have set up a mini-state called Herzeg-Bosnia and use the Croatian flag and currency. He said Croatia had a strong interest in preserving Bosnia's external borders, not least because this strengthened its case for regaining control of those parts of Croatia that fell to Serbian forces in the war of 1991.