Serbs threaten to cut UN aid lifeline

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THE Bosnian Serb army, facing the prospect of serious fuel shortages, has threatened to ban United Nations aid convoys from crossing Bosnian Serb territory unless they pay in fuel, UN officials in Sarajevo said yesterday. The threat, due to take effect today, built on a recent pattern of defiant Bosnian Serb gestures, including cutting off much of Sarajevo's water supply, blocking commercial traffic in and out of the Bosnian capital, seizing heavy weapons from UN depots and firing on relief planes at Sarajevo airport.

The demand for fuel reflects the fear of Bosnian Serb commanders that their forces will become increasingly vulnerable as a result of Serbia's decision to deny its client state all except humanitarian supplies. Serbia is angry at the Bosnian Serb rejection of an international peace plan that divides Bosnia between a Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serbs.

The Bosnian Serb Industry Minister, Boro Bosic, outlined last Monday the economic reasons for his government's refusal to accept the plan. He said the peace plan awarded the Muslim-Croat federation Bosnia's two largest thermal electric plants, at Kakanj and Tuzla, and two large hydroelectric plants at Visegrad and Jajce.

Mr Bosic said the plan gave the Muslims and Croats Bosnia's largest coal mines, at Tuzla and Mostar, as well as iron ore, zinc, lead ore and anthracite mines. Many industrialised towns under Bosnian Serb control, such as Doboj, Bosanski Samac, Sanski Most and Bosanski Brod, would be given to the Muslims and Croats, he said.

By contrast, the Bosnian Serbs would receive only a string of medium-sized electricity plants and some lignite mines. 'The plan is catastrophic from an economic point of view and thus unacceptable,' Mr Bosic said. Bosnian Serb voters are due to pass their verdict on the peace plan in a referendum on 27 and 28 August.

Opinion seems firmly against the plan at the moment. President Bill Clinton's administration intends to seek the lifting of the UN arms embargo against the Bosnian government if the Bosnian Serbs do not fall in line by 15 October.

Bosnian army officers say they are pushing back the Serbs on several fronts. 'We are slowly moving from the phase where we only defended ourselves to the offensive phase of territorial liberation. We are like a snowball getting bigger as it rolls down a hill,' the Bosnian commander, General Rasim Delic, said on Tuesday.

He said his forces had driven back the Serbs on Mount Vlasic, which overlooks the Muslim-held town of Travnik in central Bosnia, and had taken the Nisic Heights in a push from Vares to the main road linking Sarajevo and Tuzla. The general said they had also narrowed a vital, Serb-held corridor in northern Bosnia at Brcko.

ZAGREB - The commander of forces in Bihac, loyal to the Bosnian government, has given a rebel Muslim leader a week to surrender, Reuter reports. Fikret Abdic, a former member of the Bosnian presidency who last year proclaimed an independent province on a part of the north-west Muslim enclave, split with Sarajevo over his readiness to deal with the Serbs.

(Photograph omitted)