Serbs forced back from Gorazde siege

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The Independent Online
GORAZDE - Bosnia's Muslim forces have won an important battle but have failed to break the three-month Serbian siege of Gorazde, witnesses said yesterday.

Reporters accompanying a 60-ton UN convoy of food and medicine to the beleaguered 35,000 residents saw ample evidence of Serbian fighters having been forced back several miles from hills north of the town.

'The siege was not broken,' said Kemal Kuljuh, the Mayor of Gorazde. 'But we have driven them back and this has relieved the pressure.'

However, the official Serbian version of events - that Serbian forces voluntarily withdrew in accordance with agreements reached at the London conference - was not borne out by the evidence on the ground.

For miles along a narrow mountain track, discarded helmets, uniforms and putrefying bodies indicated more of a rout than an orderly retreat.

An overturned Serbian T-55 tank, empty ammunition boxes, gas masks and mortar bomb cases led the way to what had been a major Serbian position overlooking the town below. It is now occupied by Bosnian Muslims who say they overran the hill on Monday.

Gorazde is approached from the north-east and the last Serbian positions are now around Rogavici. Beyond that a no man's land in rugged wooded hills is littered with destroyed cars and trucks.

Gunmen in the trees shot across the ridges, bullets striking the foliage overhead. The UN convoy escorted by French troops with Egyptian and Ukrainian drivers edged forward because of the danger of mines.

It was the second convoy that had reached Gorazde in three months. The last one got through on 16 August. Four bloated decomposing corpses, one of them a woman, lay face-up in the middle of the mountain road. There were also signs of a hasty exodus of presumably Serbian civilians - clothes, shoes, and bundles of belongings - scattered among the oak trees.

What had been their homes on the slopes leading down from captured Serbian lines to Gorazde itself were deserted, roofless, and blackened by fire.

Villagers ran in and out of the damaged houses pulling out bedding and furniture and leading the way for livestock. As the UN convoy started back for Sarajevo several Serbian homes had been set ablaze. Clothing and personal belongings appeared to have been thrown out of the windows on to the ground.

The immediate impression was that looting was in progress and the sight of at least a dozen dead pigs lying in the street and several gardens indicated that some form of spontaneous 'ethnic cleansing' had taken place.

The animals had been shot. Had the Muslims driven out the Serbian civilians and killed their pigs? 'No,' said Mr Kuljuh. 'There were no Serbs living up that road. The pigs were killed by shelling.' But he acknowledged that Muslims did not own pigs.

The Muslim half of Gorazde is still being shelled from the mainly Serbian east bank and sniper rounds sounded across the town's badly damaged hospital. 'They shell us but not so much now, and from further away,' said a retired schoolteacher.

Mr Kuljuh confirmed that his people were entirely reliant on UN relief aid and what they could produce themselves. He said they were unable to move freely in or out of the now slightly enlarged area under Muslim control.

'The food the last convoy brought in was enough for three days. People who live in the town centre have nothing at all. There are those who live outside town are able to grow fruit and vegetables,' Mr Kuljuh said.

For the journalists the journey was not uneventful. An armoured Land Rover used by BBC television was hit by five bullets on

its way to the Sarajevo Holiday Inn hotel to meet up with the convoy.

Kate Adie, the BBC correspondent, suffered a painful bruise to her right foot when a metal splinter from one of the shots struck her boot.

(Map omitted)

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