UN denied access to 'safe areas'

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN Serbs reduced their assaults slightly yesterday following two Nato bombing attacks but they continued to deny all access to their territory, to Sarajevo and to the besieged 'safe area' of Gorazde.

Mines placed at the entrances to United Nations weapon-collection points round Sarajevo have been removed on the orders of the Bosnian Serb command. But eight UN military observers remain under house arrest east of Mostar and a Dutch military observer and his translator, who disappeared two days ago, are still missing. The observers under arrest report to the British base at Vitez, which has led to rumours they were British. But the British Army would not confirm this.

At the main Serbian checkpoint for traffic from central Bosnia, the column of vehicles from the Nordic battalion, which has been boxed in by Serbian mines since Sunday, remained in place. The Serbs seemed in good humour.

The Swedish and Danish troops could easily move the mines if they wanted but to do so could upset the Serbs. It is a symbolic confinement - a reflection of the bizarre game of cat-and-mouse being played by both the Serbs and the UN. Elsewhere, the UN used helicopters to relieve trapped convoys.

Around Gorazde, artillery and mortar-fire has ceased. This may be because the Bosnian Serb forces are now in possession of much of the territory they wanted, up to the Drina river and the important road to the north. It is expected that they may continue fighting to capture Mount Grad, which commands much of the road, and another hill, just south of Gorazde.

A British liaison officer is reported to have been among the casualties in heavy Serbian shelling of Gorazde at the weekend.

In central Bosnia the first day of the peace deal between Muslim BiH forces and the Croatian HVO has been a success, marking a triumph for British UN peace-keepers.

Around Gornji Vakuf, formerly on the frontline between the HVO and the Muslims, gunfire could be heard in the morning as troops left their trenches and fired their weapons in the air in jubilation.

But the other side of this success could be seen in large BiH troop movements north towards Zepce, where, no longer fighting the HVO, the Muslims have been attacking the Bosnian Serbs. The HVO, which has until now stayed out of the renewed BiH offensive, yesterday moved four artillery pieces in the Novi Seher area westwards.

The action suggested that it might be on the point of lending fire support to the BiH.

The deal on the withdrawal of forces between the Muslims and the Croats, negotiated by the British commander of the UN south-west sector, Brigadier John Reith, has been greeted with enormous enthusiasm, although in some areas distrust remains. In Stari Vitez, a tiny Muslim enclave in the centre of the Croat-held town of Vitez, both the Muslims and the Croats handed in weapons. British helicopters flew over the Vitez region, monitoring the final Muslim and Croatian withdrawals to agreed lines a few miles apart from each other.