Serbs and Croats extend alliance: British forces come under attack in central Bosnia

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The Independent Online
AS BOSNIAN Serb and Croat forces yesterday strengthened their military co-operation against the Muslims, British forces came under sniper and shell fire in central Bosnia and the Warrior of the commander of British forces in Vitez, Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Duncan, ran over a large land-mine near the town of Zepce. No one was hurt in the incident, when the Warrior drove through what appeared to be a rock-fall across the road. The troops found anti-personnel mines in the debris and came under small-arms sniper fire as they attempted to negotiate a way out through the road block.

A second Warrior was hit by a claymore mine outside Novi Travnik, and a Scimitar light tank was shelled but not hit while on patrol near Gradacac.

The Croatian and Serbian forces are reinforcing the efforts of their political leaders to arrange a swift partition of the republic. The Muslims were once allied to the Croats, but the relationship has broken down in recent weeks in central Bosnia.

From Belgrade the news yesterday was that the Serbs and Croats had agreed not to fight each other around the Neretva valley, along which runs the only good road into central Bosnia, the heartland of what remains of the Muslim-led Bosnian state. The Serbian front lines run about three miles (5km) east and south of the Neretva in places and follow it as far as Konjic.

Reports from Maglaj, 31 miles (50km) north-east of Vitez, that the Serbs have fired their powerful artillery in support of Croatian attacks on the Muslims appear reliable. Three days ago the Croats attempted a spate of 'ethnic cleansing' in the area, which led to a fierce battle. Yesterday Maglaj was reported to have been heavily shelled by Serbian guns.

There have also been suggestions that the Serbs may be willing to co-operate with the Croats in the Travnik area, where the Muslims occupy a seven-mile (12km) wide belt between Serbs and Croats.

Vitez was virtually surrounded yesterday by the Muslim-led Bosnian government forces. Firing continues all round the British base. On Sunday, after a long and dusty journey up the UN supply route, our convoy was halted just short of a disputed T-junction because four rounds had landed near the British base, one scattering shrapnel into it. The route has been much improved but the weather has made it a dustbowl and visibility was at times reduced to a few feet, the dust giving an impression of a strange fog.

The British troops cope well enough, driving around in their armoured vehicles, their faces covered with brown and cream Gulf war desert scarves. Sniper fire echoes continually around the area and everyone is advised not to venture out except with an army escort. A woman in Vitez was hit in the stomach by a sniper at the weekend and taken to the British military hospital but they could not save her.

Yesterday afternoon a sniper was firing straight down the main road past the British camp - probably because he was bored.

The Serbs have continued shelling Zenica from their long-range 152mm battery on the Vlasic mountain, which stretches down to within seven miles (11km) of Vitez. Because the mountain rises to 6,236ft, the Serbs can probably see Zenica. One report yesterday suggested that a recent attack involved the use of a larger calibre shell, leading to speculation that an ex-Russian naval gun was in use.

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