Yugoslav army 'intervening in Bosnia conflict': Izetbegovic blames Belgrade military units for recent loss of Muslim enclaves in east of republic

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The Independent Online
REGULAR units of the Yugoslav army are spearheading the Serbian onslaught against the last pockets of Muslim-held territory in eastern Bosnia, the republic's President, Alija Izetbegovic, said in Zagreb yesterday.

'Two Yugoslav army battalions from Valjevo and Uzice are directly involved in the offensive,' he said. 'Vance and Owen have the same information - that over 100 tanks and several thousand fresh troops have crossed the River Drina into Bosnia during the last month from Serbia.'

He said direct Serbian involvement was responsible for the recent loss of the enclaves of Cerska, Kamenica and Konjevic Polje and called for international monitors to be stationed on the border between Bosnia and Serbia to stop the flow of tanks and men.

The United Nations commander in Bosnia, General Philippe Morillon, yesterday announced the arrest of the Serbian Colonel who commanded an attack on the eastern town of Srebrenica as wounded were being evacuated by UN helicopters.

The French general, who returned to Sarajevo after visiting the nearby Serbian stronghold of Pale, described the Colonel, identified as Ilic, as a 'brute'. He said that at his request, General Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb forces, had had the officer arrested, and that Colonel Ilic would face a court martial for having betrayed his ceasefire promises to General Morillon.

The Bosnian authorities have claimed the Serb-led Yugoslav army is actively engaged in the Bosnian war before. But fresh unofficial confirmation from UN forces and Western observers who have been in the area adds weight to the Bosnian President's claim.

Observers point to recent well- documented attacks on the Srebrenica region by helicopters that returned to Serbia after bombing Muslim villages, a concentration of tanks and heavy artillery of a kind that Bosnian Serb forces are not known to possess, and recent admissions by Bosnian Serb commanders that they are referring to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, for orders. The involvement of the Yugoslav army in eastern Bosnia could explain the recent startling military gains made by Serbian forces in the region, there after a ten 10-month military stalemate between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims along the Drina valley.

If reports of Yugoslav army involvement in the war are confirmed, the news will will be highly unwelcome to Western governments. One of the main arguments put forward against Western military intervention in Bosnia is that the conflict is a civil war and not a war between separate states. Proof of direct military involvement by the rump Yugoslavia would strengthen Bosnian demands for Western military strikes against Serbia, and the lifting of the embargo on Bosnia importing weapons.

The battering of Srebenica forms only one part of an all-out Serbian offensive against the Muslim-led Bosnian army, which has gathered pace since President Izetbegovic added his signature alongside the Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban to the Vance- Owen peace plan last week.

An average of 2,000 Serb shells hit Sarajevo each day last week in one of the worst bombardments the city's 400,000 population have endured since the year-long siege began. The attacks have severed vital UN aid flights bringing food to the city. An announced ceasefire was due to take effect from noon yesterday, though it is far from clear whether it will make any difference.

By overrunning Srebrenica and parts of Sarajevo, the Serbs strategic aim is to sabotage the Vance-Owen plan to divide Bosnia into 10 ethnic- based provinces, one of which would be a Muslim province running along the Drina valley, which incudes Srebrenica. The Bosnian Muslims hope that now they have signed the plan, the world will force the Serbs to come round, by imposing further sanctions on Belgrade or, if necessary, by militarily rolling back Serb gains.

Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Foreign Minister said: 'They all said it will be different if we have your signature. There is only one way to find out. We did what we could, and now it is up to those who urged us to sign to do their bit.'

Meanwhile, a long-delayed United Nations aid convoy arrived in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica yesterday, a UN official said. Peter Kessler of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the vehicles had finally reached the estimated 60,000 Muslims there after being blocked for two days by Bosnian Serbs.