Serbs in fierce battle for key Brcko corridor

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The Independent Online
WHILE the world has concentrated its attention on the fate of Gorazde, the Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia, a battle crucial to the republic's future has broken out in the north. A flow of reports from official Serbian, Muslim and Croat sources indicates that the Serbs are engaged in a fierce fight with the Muslims and Croats for control of a land corridor that runs through the Brcko area near the Bosnian-Croatian border.

Last Monday, Sarajevo radio reported that Serbian forces had pounded Muslim army positions and civilian targets near Brcko with mortars and recoilless guns. The Bosnian Serb army said that Muslim forces had fired more than 100 shells on Serbian positions and also launched an infantry attack.

For the Serbs, victory in the battle of Brcko is more important than the crushing of Muslim resistance in Gorazde. The Brcko corridor is a thin line of territory that links Serbia and Serb-held parts of eastern Bosnia with Serb-held areas of northern Bosnia and the rebel Serbian Krajina region of Croatia.

The Serbs fear that, if they cannot control and expand the corridor, the future Greater Serbian state - uniting Serbia, more than half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, part of Croatia and Montenegro - will be constantly vulnerable to Muslim and Croatian pressure. If the corridor is broken, then Krajina and Serb-held northern Bosnia will be cut off from Belgrade, Serbia's capital.

This is one reason why the Serbs disliked the US-sponsored creation last month of a Muslim-Croat Bosnian federation linked to Croatia. By ending their mutually destructive war, the Muslims and Croats opened the way for a redoubled effort to cut the Brcko corridor.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, has warned that if the corridor falls, his self-declared state will instantly merge with Krajina. Meanwhile, having squashed Gorazde, the Serbs regard victory in Brcko as an urgent necessity.

The Serbs also accuse the Muslims of taking advantage of the ceasefire around Sarajevo to consolidate their lines. 'The Muslims continue provocations and engineering work close to Serb positions, all before the very eyes of UN troops,' said Tanjug, the Serbian news agency.

The Serbs say that UN peace- keepers have withdrawn from the Bjelasnica and Igman mountains overlooking Sarajevo, allowing the Muslims to claw back territory. They detect a pattern in which the Muslims exploit the 'safe area' status of their enclaves to make inroads into Serbian defences.

In so far as the Sarajevo and Tuzla areas are concerned, this allegation probably contains some truth. It also once applied to Gorazde, though not after the enclave's resistance had collapsed and the Serbs continued to shell the town.

In Muslim eyes, a continuation of the war makes sense. With so much land lost since April 1992 and so many civilians displaced, Muslim leaders fear that a ceasefire would merely freeze front lines and force them into diplomatic submission.

(Map omitted)

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