UN chief visits Gorazde as Serbs close in

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The Independent Online
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL Sir Michael Rose, United Nations Commander in Bosnia, arrives in the enclave of Gorazde today to see the battle there for himself.

Rebel Bosnian Serbs advanced up to 10km (six miles) into the Bosnian government enclave, UN officials said yesterday. Serb artillery and tank columns closed to within 5km of Gorazde town from the south and were also pressing assaults from the north-east and east. Their week-old offensive has killed 52 people and has wounded 249, according to UN figures.

UN officials said up to 2,000 refugees were streaming into Gorazde from 13 villages in the path of Serb forces in the Drina valley to the south.

Bosnian Serbs have mounted a diversionary attack to the south of the isolated Gorazde pocket in the east of the country, to prevent besieged Bosnian army (BiH) units there moving troops to counter the main Bosnian Serb attack from the north-east. Serbian artillery and tanks continued to shell the pocket and Gorazde itself.

The new UN Commander in former Yugoslavia, France's Lieutenant-General Bertrand de Lapresle, said yesterday that UN observers reported the situation in Gorazde was 'bad but rather stable' and that Gorazde was not about to fall.

The main focus of conflict in Bosnia remains the western edge of the 'Maglaj finger' and just west of Bugojno, where the BiH are pressing the Serbs and claim to have recovered small areas. The attack on Gorazde may be a reprisal for this.

General de Lapresle began his first tour of the UN's south-west Bosnian sector yesterday. Gorazde is a UN 'safe area' and the Serbian offensive is a serious challenge to UN authority, he said. 'For a long time we have wanted to have troops there. We are waiting for a Ukrainian force - we hope it will be there long before the end of this month.'

But in spite of the General's optimistic assessment the Serb advance to within a few miles of the town centre is threatening the lives of 50,000 people, many of them refugees, crowded into the Muslim- controlled enclave.

The UN's mandate in Gorazde is delicate. The UN could use air power to prevent it being overrun but is unlikely to invoke Nato air power unless the Ukrainian troops come under fire. The BiH may have lost some ground but UN sources believe serious gains would cost the Serbs dearly.

In spite of the continuing fighting, General de Lapresle shared General Rose's optimism that peace was gathering momentum. 'I think that since the beginning of February things have been going in a good direction. Of course, this is rather fragile and this is why we want to keep the momentum,' he said. 'It's obvious to all the warring factions that we don't want to make our peace but a peace the warring factions are going to agree with.'

In Bugojno, the mood among the 400 troops of the Duke of Wellington's regiment was hopeful. They have started foot patrols - previously unknown in Bosnia - to get to know the locals. Their mission has changed in the last few weeks, from escorting aid to policing the BiH/Croat ceasefire.

The Duke's commander, Lieutenant-Colonel David Santa-Olalla, said everybody felt the Muslim- Croat ceasefire was permanent. 'The next focus is on the Serbs,' he said.

Disorder shifts south, page 17

(Map omitted)

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