Serbs pull out but the doubts remain

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serb fighters streamed off Mount Igman yesterday, although it is still not clear that the Serbs intend to honour a pledge to withdraw all their forces from the strategic mountain overlooking Sarajevo.

Eyewitnesses on the Serb-held side of Mount Igman, on the lower slopes of the densely forested mountain, watched 500 Serb fighters withdrawing in coaches. Some soldiers grumbled that the withdrawal was a betrayal of comrades who had died in the fight for the strategic mountain. The soldiers were followed by Serbian tanks and artillery.

Earlier there was controversy over whether the Serbs were pulling out, or reinforcing their positions. Serbian fighters in fresh uniforms were spotted. The United Nations force commander in Bosnia, General Francis Briquemont, mysteriously said that 'something is happening on Igman'. He added: 'The Serbs need one or two days to realise their withdrawal.'

Gen Briquemont flourished a nine- page document in front of assembled journalists, called An Agreement for peace in Bosnia. The accord was signed by the commanders of the three warring armies - Serbs, Croats and Muslims - at Sarajevo airport, and contained a list of vague and almost certainly unrealisable promises.

The agreement envisages yet another ceasefire, the re-opening of destroyed railway lines throughout Bosnia, 'traffic throughways' between the Muslim enclaves, and restoring electricity lines and water supplies. A UN spokesman said the deal would take effect once a peace accord between the warring parties is reached in Geneva.

For political reasons, the UN in Sarajevo is anxious to talk up signs of progress and play down fresh reports of aggression by the Serbs. It does not want US-led air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions around the capital any more than the Serbs themselves do. It does want the Muslims to return to the negotiating table in Geneva, where Lord Owen is determined to make the Muslim President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, sign a partition plan. It is an agenda that the UN shares with the Bosnian Serbs. They want to end the war while the going is good, and on the most favourable terms possible.

In Geneva the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, furiously denounced reports that Serbs were reinforcing positions on Mount Igman as 'a shameful lie'. He said more than 2,500 fighters had evacuated the mountain already, and the remaining soldiers, estimated at around 1,500, were on their way. 'We will hand over Mount Igman to the UN, but not to Muslims forces,' he said.

The Serbs want the UN to block Muslim-led government forces from returning to Mount Igman, by assuming total control over the area. The task is way beyond the UN's already stretched manpower resources. Mount Igman is not so much a mountain as a ridge, which folds around the western fringe of Sarajevo for several miles. Covered in pine trees and shrouded much of the time in mist, it is almost impossible to monitor what is going on there.

Even now there are probably enough Serbian fighters still on Mount Igman to carry out a final assault on a part of it that is still held by the Muslim-led Bosnian army. The goal of the Serbian campaign on Mount Igman - to cut off a vital supply line linking Sarajevo with Bosnian-held territory to the south-west - has not been achieved. Bosnian army soldiers are still moving arms and food in and out of Sarajevo along a narrow, and highly dangerous, trail.