Serb forces plan final assault on Gorazde

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - Serbian forces threatened yesterday to launch a final assault on the besieged Bosnian town of Gorazde to rescue 2,500 Serbs they claimed were being held in a 'concentration camp'. 'There will be no more waiting and hesitation,' the Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency quoted a Serb commander as saying. 'Gorazde will soon join the free cities of the region.'

Fierce battles raged around the town, the biggest in eastern Bosnia still in Muslim hands. Tanjug described the fighting as the worst since the war began in April. Gorazde is holding out against Serb forces who have captured nearly all of eastern Bosnia. It has been besieged for more than three months, and the few reports coming out of it speak of drastic shortages of food and medicine.

Meanwhile officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said they were pressing to visit as soon as possible Serbian detention camps that are at the centre of allegations of murder, rape and beatings.

'We received . . . authorisation to visit the detention centres in Bosnia, and we are going to proceed without delay in the coming days,' said Claudia Grassi, an official of the ICRC in Belgrade. In Geneva, Pierre Gauthier, an ICRC spokesman, said he hoped inspections could be started this week but could not say when.

On Saturday, the leader of Bosnia's Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, proposed dismantling the camps and exchanging prisoners with Croats and Muslims in an apparent effort to fend off criticism over reported maltreatment of prisoners. Allegations of atrocities, and television pictures of emaciated inmates shocked the world, and increased calls for outside military intervention to halt the fighting in Bosnia.

Most of the world's attention has been focused on camps run by Serbs in northern Bosnia. Bosnian Muslims and Croats claim Serbs run 94 camps in the republic, holding about 130,000 people. Serbs claim about 40,000 of their people are held in 45 Muslim and Croat camps.

The Yugoslav Prime Minister, Milan Panic, yesterday toured an army barracks on the outskirts of Belgrade, where the Bosnian government claimed a camp held 2,500 inmates. Soldiers used crowbars to pry open locked warehouses as Mr Panic, with journalists in tow, toured the buildings. No trace of anything resembling a camp was uncovered.

'We are the victims of an ongoing propaganda campaign,' Mr Panic said. 'There are no camps in Yugoslavia, but nobody seems interested in what we say.' On Friday, Mr Panic declared that he would exert moral pressure on Mr Karadzic to close camps in Bosnia.

The Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, was reported to be mostly quiet yesterday, but fighting was reported to be continuing on the fringes of the republic.

Tanjug news agency quoted Banja Luka radio in Serb-controlled north-west Bosnia as reporting heavy fighting near Bosanska Gradiska, on the Bosnian-Croatian border. The radio report quoted unofficial figures saying 20 Serb fighters had been killed, and dozens of Croats. Further east, also along the Bosnian- Croatian border, Croatian officials said 14 people were killed in air attacks by Serbian forces on Bosanski Brod.

Serbs opposed to Bosnia's independence have captured about two-thirds of the republic's territory since Muslims and Croats voted on 29 February to break away from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. The war has killed at least 8,000 people. Some estimates put the figure as high as 50,000. More than 1 million people have fled their homes.

(Photograph omitted)