Serbs raise the stakes as their enemies join forces

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The Independent Online
THE Bosnian Serbs' seizure of 15 United Nations hostages may be their last desperate gamble, as time is not on their side. They face increasingly unified opposition from the federation between the mainly Muslim Bosnian government forces (BiH) and the Bosnian Croat HVO.

Today is Bosnian Army Day, the second anniversary of its formation, and a parade is planned in Stari Vitez, the tiny Muslim enclave in the centre of Croat Vitez, and is a striking symbol of the new co-

operation between the sides who fought a bitter year-long war.

Yesterday, the commander of the BiH III Corps, Brigadier Sakib Mahmuljin, said: 'The war will continue until the Chetniks (Serbs) respect an agreement. The world will see that they do.' But he thought an agreement with the HVO in Gornji Vakuf was 'one more step towards a global agreement'. He said that soon the BiH would be planning operations against the Serbs with the HVO and that in the longer term 'we will not only co-operate but we will work together like one organism'.

The BiH III Corps, based in Zenica, has been fighting the Serbs around the Maglaj area which UN sources assess as the main area of military activity - more so than Gorazde, which has fallen quiet. Fighting in Maglaj is expected to continue, although neither the BiH nor the Bosnian Serb army is keen on close-quarter fighting. Interception of Bosnian Serb communications has indicated that a main operational movement is likely in the area of Doboj, near the northern end of the Maglaj area.

The BiH has four other corps, each equivalent to a Western brigade of about 5,000 troops, stationed in Sarajevo, in the Tuzla area in the north, in Mostar and in Bihac. They have used the breather provided by the cessation of war with the HVO to launch limited attacks against the Serbs, but the HVO may soon start supporting them actively.

The prospect of a unified BiH and HVO force with joint planning, and common doctrine and procedures hangs darkly over the Serbs. The unification of Muslim and Croat territories has also connected the old network of munitions factories, which could start redressing the BiH's acute weapons shortage. The explosives factory in Croat Vitez is now linked with the Muslim Bratstvo factory in Novi Travnik which makes rockets, guns and Howitzers, and with the rocket fuel factory in Muslim Bugojno and the small-arms ammunition factory at Konjic.

All three sides' armed forces have become more professional and, in the two years since its inception, the transformation of the Bosnian force was evident. Brigadier Mahmuljin wore newly introduced rank insignia for a meeting in a building in Zenica which was guarded by the Bosnian army's anti-terrorist force, the PTD.

After the meeting the PTD marched out, their three guard dogs - an Alsatian and two Rottweilers - and their handlers bringing up the rear. They marched past the Cafe Monza where Zenica residents were chatting over beer and coffee under parasols in the spring sunshine. But the town is within range of Serb guns, and they could start firing at any time.