Truce collapses as Serbs batter Gorazde

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The Independent Online
SERBIAN forces stepped up their shelling of the Bosnian government enclave of Gorazde yesterday, ignoring a 24-hour truce with Muslim forces, a United Nations military spokesman said.

The ceasefire supposedly affecting 1,000km (650 miles) of Serb- Muslim front lines throughout Bosnia was 'never really respected' by either side and they did not renew it when it expired at 7pm, he said.

'The level of shelling in Gorazde was more intense than yesterday,' Commander Eric Chaperon of the UN Protection Force (Unprofor) told Reuters. An artillery blast slightly injured one of eight armed UN liaison officers sent by the UN force commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, on Thursday to provide more accurate reports of fighting in the enclave.

Another spokesman, Major Rob Annink, said General Rose had again put off Serb-Muslim talks on a permanent truce, originally set for Thursday, until at least today after consultations with the two sides.

Bosnia's President, Alija Izetbegovic, declared a 24-hour truce from 7pm on Thursday 'to create conditions for military and political talks with the Bosnian Serb army'.

Chances of a ceasefire had looked in doubt when the Muslims refused to join talks between army commanders on a permanent truce throughout Bosnia unless the Serbs stopped attacking Gorazde and pulled back their troops. Serbian forces have seized about 5 per cent of the Gorazde enclave in a 10-day assault, less than previously thought, Major Annink said.

Major Annink said that the Serbs had pushed up to 6km (4 miles) from the town but stopped shelling it on Thursday morning. 'The firing is assessed now as stationary and harassing,' he said.

The new assessment was based on a dispatch from eight armed UN liaison officers who arrived on Thursday to help four UN observers, too few in number to gather much first-hand evidence in areas reported affected by fighting.

'The Serbs have gained less territory than previously thought. They did not reach the Drina, did not take any key (high) points around the town,' Major Annink said.

The Serbian assault on Gorazde has killed 67 people and wounded 325, according to UN figures, and made a permanent ceasefire difficult for the government to accept.

Bosnia's UN envoy said on Thursday that information from UN military observers about the situation in Gorazde had been withheld from the Security Council. He called for an inquiry.

A senior UN military source said that apart from worries over Gorazde, the Muslims' main concern about agreeing to a ceasefire was that any final agreement might freeze current confrontation lines and turn them into final ethnic borders within Bosnia.

'The Bosnian government is concerned that freezing the lines will prejudice the eventual political decision at peace negotiations on where the borders will run,' the source said.

'But that cannot be our concern. A ceasefire is a political risk, but to not enter into one condemns your people to a perpetuation of war. The people have had enough of it. You have to make that political gamble,' the UN source said.

Serbian forces overran 70 per cent of Bosnia after rebelling against a Muslim-Croat majority vote to secede from Yugoslavia. They expelled huge numbers of non-Serbs in the process.