Serbs blow smoke at UN in Brcko

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The Independent Online
THICK black smoke rising from the ruined suburbs of Brcko told the story - but not of the apoc alyptic battle for the Posavina corridor, which many fear is inevitable. Bosnian Serb soldiers were burning tyres to mark the front lines for a party of United Nations officials and a tour bus filled with journalists. The troops of the self-styled 'Republika Srpska' based along the corridor have good reasons to feel vulnerable. But their ability to light fires on the confrontation line with impunity undermined claims of a huge Muslim military build-up.

Yesterday, six UN observers arrived in Brcko to monitor fighting. The UN hopes they will discourage an offensive by the Muslim-led Bosnian government to cut the corridor or any Serbian attempt to widen it.

The front-line tour guides assured us of the danger from Bosnian troops massing to the south, Bosnian Croats in the Orasje enclave, and, north of the Sava river which marks the border with Croatia, from artillery brigades in Croatia. The new alliance between Bosnia and Croatia poses a threat to the Serbs on the corridor if Sarajevo and Zagreb attack from both sides. But plans for an attack, if they exist, are well-hidden.

'The Muslims are digging trenches to reach our position and they have three or four tanks,' said Cedomir Cadjo, in charge of the village of Lukici, eight miles west of Brcko. A group of soldiers sitting on an armoured personnel carrier singing 'God is a Serb' seemed relaxed about being only 400 metres from the Bosnian lines.

Lieutenant Cadjo insisted the Bosnians have prepared an attack for months, but was vague concerning evidence. From a sniper position in a two-storey house, its red- tiled roof holed by a mortar, the lush countryside looked peaceful.

It was livelier on the front line in Serb-held Doboj, threatened by Bosnian and Croatian forces. 'It is a quiet day,' said Corporal Dragisa Urosevic, as the sound of mortar reverberated in the distance. Bosnians on the plain below have few arms to match two Serbian tanks or the anti-aircraft gun in a field.

The problem for the Bosnians is that although they are less than three miles from Doboj, the Serbs hold the high ground around the town. So although the Bosnians lob the occasional shell into the town - killing four and wounding another four last week, on Orthodox Easter Sunday - they can do little to dislodge the Serbs. Scanning the misty green hills, a Serbian soldier, his head wrapped in a grubby bandana, commented: 'If the weather was better you could see the mosques and the Catholic church that have remained untouched by our guns.' The mist was not thick enough to cloak the minaret of what had been a mosque in the Serb-held village, which sat at a 45-degree angle, pointing like a rocket at the Muslim lines.

Unfortunately for the Bosnians, the Serbs, whose troops are stretched thin across Bosnia, are armed with real missiles and sophisticated weapons. Despite the Bosnians' numerical superiority, they can do little on their own, hence the stand-off around Brcko and Doboj. Unless Croatia weighs in with heavy artillery, the smoke signals along the Posavina corridor look black for the Bosnians.

(Map omitted)