Serb success adds to Sarajevo peril: Bosnian Muslim army chiefs say their men are outgunned and demoralised - Paddy Ashdown urges Western armed might to save the city

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Muslim army chiefs warned yesterday that their forces on two hilltops overlooking Sarajevo are outgunned and demoralised and cannot hold out for much longer.

Once the attacking Serbs are ensconced on Mount Igman and Zuc Hill, the rooftops of Sarajevo will be only yards from their direct fire. The Serbs will be able to repeat the battle of Vukovar in Croatia, and flatten Sarajevo house by house, the army chiefs said in a private briefing.

The Muslims have lost hundreds of soldiers on Zuc during 10 days of intense fighting. Returning soldiers say hundreds of dead bodies are lying on the hillside. Some were buried alive in landslides caused by heavy shelling.

The army chiefs expressed anxiety after Serb forces tightened their noose around the city, seizing one of the few mountains in the hands of the Muslim-led army. In overnight fighting, advancing Serb forces captured Mount Bjelasnica, to the south-west of Sarajevo, seizing control of the Bosnian television transmitter on the top.

In Geneva, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, offered to withdraw his forces from Bjelasnica. Threats of US air strikes against Serb positions around Sarajevo have frightened the Serb leaders. 'We do not want to take Sarajevo,' he said.

But the Bosnian Serb army offensive suggests the opposite. The attack on Bjelasnica is part of a two-pronged offensive which aims to cut Sarajevo into two. From the south-west, Serb forces are attacking Mount Igman and from the north-east, Zuc Hill.

In central Bosnia it is the Muslims who are on the attack. British UN troops in the area yesterday confirmed that Muslim forces had seized control of the town of Gornji Vakuf. 'There are only scattered pockets of Croat resistance,' Captain Peter Bullock reported. 'The Muslims hold about 95 per cent of the town.' The loss of Gornji Vakuf almost completes the rout of the Bosnian Croat army in central Bosnia. The Croats have been all but knocked out of the war in Bosnia after a series of catastrophic defeats at the hands of their former Muslim allies. The Muslims recently seized Bugojno Fojnica, encircling the four remaining Croat strongholds in central Bosnia and cutting off their supply lines to Croatia proper. The Muslims are now close to linking up a large swath of territory running from Mostar in the south-west to Tuzla in the north-east.

On a visit to Sarajevo yesterday Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, threw down a gauntlet to the West to lift the siege of the city by force. 'Sarajevo must not be allowed to die and the siege must be lifted,' he said after talks with Bosnia's Vice- President, Ejup Ganic, in the heavily shelled Presidency building in the centre of Sarajevo. 'We must be ready, after due warning, to use air power to take out heavy weapons around the city. What Sarajevo needs now is not just food but protection.'

Mr Ashdown said there must be no delay in taking decisive military action. 'We have 8 to 10 weeks to save Sarajevo and the crunch time is coming militarily and in terms of humanitarian aid.' He warned: 'The city is being strangled.' Lambasting Western governments for displaying 'a terrible failure' of leadership in Bosnia, he added that the fate of the city was 'much more important to the future of Europe than all the Maastricht treaties put together'.

Mr Ashdown went out of his way to counter the bitter hostility many Sarajevans feel towards Britain, now seen as the biggest obstacle to Western military intervention in Bosnia against the Serbs. 'Sarajevo is very important in the hearts of people in Britain who are greatly moved by your courage,' he said. 'Whatever inappropiate steps our government takes, most people are determined that Sarajevo should be returned to the great city it once was.'

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