Serb fury grows as Muslims advance

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Angered by a rout this week of Bosnian Serb forces near Bihac, Serbian army commanders yesterday threatened to retaliate by shelling Sarajevo and Bihac, a move that would certainly bring down the wrath of Nato.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, called for an 'all-out' counter-attack in north-west Bosnia, where Muslim-led government forces have made important gains this week.

'While respecting provisions of international war law, the army of the (self-declared Bosnian Serb) Republic of Srpska will mount a drive to encircle, destroy and expel Muslim forces from the territories of Serbian municipalities, using all permitted means,' said a statement.

The Bosnian Serb authorities have continued to harass the UN. The Serbs have refused to release four British peace-keepers and a translator detained in Kupres, have cancelled negotiations with their UN commander, and have arrested two Muslim doctors travelling in a UN car.

General Dragomir Milosevic, commander of a Bosnian Serb corps near Sarajevo, yesterday threatened to attack 'selected targets' in the capital if the government offensive continued. His words were brushed aside by Lieutenant- General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia. 'We hear these threats on a daily basis and we tend to throw them in the rubbish bin. If they do shell Sarajevo, they know what they can expect,' he said. Under the Nato ultimatum, endorsed in Brussels yesterday, the use of artillery against Sarajevo, or against Bihac, which is a UN 'safe area', should trigger air strikes.

UN officials have protested against the detention of the peace-keepers and the Muslim doctors to little effect. 'We'll continue to protest - that's all we can do,' one UN official said. The two Muslim doctors were arrested on Thursday after the Serbs reneged on a deal to allow them to enter the besieged enclave of Gorazde. The doctors were taken from a UN car at gunpoint and locked up at Lukavica barracks, near Sarajevo, where they remained last night.

In Bihac, Bosnian soldiers spent the day consolidating a new front line that includes about 200sq km (80sq miles) of captured Serbian territory, including the Grabez plateau, from where the Serbs were able to shell Bihac and the rolling hills and farmland of the Bihac pocket. The Bosnians were reported to have moved to the outskirts of Bosanka Krupa, a Serb-held town, where heavy artillery exchanges were reported.

The UN believes the Serbs may be firing big guns at Bihac from Krajina, the Serb-held region of Croatia. Although the Bosnian assault has stopped, firing continues along the front line and the mood is tense.

About 8,000 Serbian civilians displaced by fighting in Bihac have sought shelter in Serb-held Bosanski Petrovac, south-east of Bihac.

General Atif Dudakovic, the Fifth Corps commander, has enjoyed some success recently. He may have been helped by Serbia's blockade of its former clients in Bosnia. The Bosnian Serb authorities complain of shortages due to the sanctions, and have tried to extort fuel from peace-keepers in exchange for granting passage to UN fuel convoys. When UN officials refused the deal, Mr Karadzic assured them of clearance for fuel convoys. The promise was not fulfilled.

'Over the last weeks, all we have seen is prevarication, non-compliance and non-co- operation,' said Thant Myint- U, a UN spokesman. He suggested Mr Karadzic's inability to fulfil his promise was due to 'some sort of military coup d'etat' or to a 'serious rift' between the leader and his army. UN negotiators believe Mr Karadzic would like to appease the UN but that his hard-line military chief, General Ratko Mladic, wants revenge. His soldiers have taken a beating from Bosnians illegally occupying a demilitarised zone on Mount Igman, west of Sarajevo. Commando units have killed more than 30 Serbian troops in attacks close to the zone this month.