Fierce clashes shatter uneasy Bosnia peace

WAR returned with a vengeance to Bosnia yesterday. Sarajevo echoed with hundreds of explosions, Bosnian government forces went on the offensive around Sarajevo and Bihac, and the Bosnian Serbs were reported to have resumed shelling the 'safe haven' of Srebrenica.

A UN spokesman detailed a list of violations by both parties, including artillery attacks, detention of UN personnel and the ban by Bosnian Serbs on urgently needed fuel convoys. Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander, said he believed 'the strategic balance is turning against the Bonsian Serb army. There may come a moment when the Bosnian government perceives that it is in its interest to return to full-scale war. If it did so in the short term, it would be a catastrophe for the people of this country'.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, declared a 'state of war' in the Bihac region in northwestern Bosnia where government troops have encircled the Serb-held town of Bosanska Krupa.

In a government offensive near Sarajevo, Bosnian soldiers yesterday infiltrated a demilitarised zone on Mount Igman, west of Sarajevo, to launch an attack on Serbian troops outside the zone. The Bosnian army shelled a French observation post on Mount Igman, prompting a swift warning that Nato will carriy out air strikes if the action is repeated.

In possible Serbian retaliation for the government offensives, several rounds of mortar fire hit the government-held suburb of Hrasnica, near Sarajevo's airport. Later at least four people were wounded when several artillery shells hit the Muslim suburb.

UN peace-keepers said Serbian commanders were 'incandescent with rage' after government troops attacked Serbian villages south-west of the Bosnian capital. And as the fighting continued around Bihac, seizure of ground from the Serbs sparked an exodus of thousands of Serbian refugees, with hundreds seeking refuge in Serb-held areas of Croatia.

Troops of the mostly Muslim government force crossed the Una River and swept into Bosanska Krupa, trapping several hundred Serbian soldiers, UN officials said. Bosanska Krupa, 130 miles north-west of Sarajevo, had a pre-war population of about 20,000. It would be by far the largest Serb-held town to fall to the government forces since the war began in April 1992. In theory, the UN has the right to respond to such problems by calling on Nato air power, but is unlikely to do so in spite of Friday's agreement between the UN and the alliance for a 'more robust' use of air strikes. But the UN's reluctance to call in the jets may be complicated by Washington's support for the Bihac offensive and its decision to circulate at the UN a resolution to lift the arms embargo on the Sarajevo government in six months' time.

In Sarajevo, hundreds of explosions and machine-gun bursts broke the uneasy calm imposed in February, when heavy weapons were banned from the city by a Nato ultimatum. UN monitors counted 74 detonations in three hours last night, but could not identify the weapons.

The UN noted troop movements in the area of Bosanska Krupa, which suggests the government forces are keen to defend the week's gains against a possible Serbian counter-attack. A State Department spokesman in Washington told reporters: 'We are understanding of their decision to exercise their right to defend themselves by force of arms.'

The Serbs are now trying to link the fuel issue to the Bihac attack and to a Bosnian withdrawal from the Igman DMZ. Bizarrely, they also have issued a demand that peace-keepers stop firing on their positions in northern Bosnia.

The UN has rejected any such linkage, but seems at a loss how to resolve its various problems.

UN officials visited Pale yesterday for talks with Bosnian Serb leaders in an attempt to secure the release of seven people in Serbian detention, and to win clearance for fuel convoys. A similar message was conveyed by a UN letter to Pale, but apparently had no effect.

There is growing concern for the safety of four British soldiers and their female interpreter, who spent a fifth day in prison in Kupres, while Serbian officials pondered their reasons for crossing into Serb-held territory on Tuesday. 'The Serbs have accused them of being spies,' Major Herve Gourmelon said. 'They claim the (Muslim) doctors are not doctors but spies.' The UN has hotly denied both claims.

'Our main priority is to get them out safely and as quickly as possible,' a UN spokesman said. The UN assured reporters that the British soldiers were in good condition, but then admitted officials had not been able to contact them.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss