Karadzic tells troops to fight to the last

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, yesterday called on his military commander in the encircled town of Drvar, western Bosnia, to defend it "at all costs", as the Serbs reeled under the double blow of Croat attacks in western Bosnia and the threat of an offensive north from the city of Dubrovnik.

The movement of at least 4,000 Croatian troops into the Dubrovnik area, to push the Bosnian Serbs out of artillery range of the historic Croatian city, and the Bosnian Croat push towards Drvar are connected politically rather than strategically, military sources and western diplomats believe.

There appears to be no unifying strategic plan, although both capitalise on the confusion and loss of morale among the Bosnian Serbs following the unexpectedly swift recapture of the Krajina region by the Croatians.

Croatian forces were yesterday in position for an attack northwards from Dubrovnik, to drive Bosnian Serbs out of artillery range of the "Pearl of the Adriatic", although there were unconfirmed indications that the Serbs had begun to withdraw anyway.

If a big attack takes place, it may go down in history as one of the few campaigns in the history of war motivated by a desire to reinvigorate the tourist industry.

But the United Nations believes there is more to it than that.

The town of Trebinje, just inland and under Bosnian Serb control, is understood to have been included in the US peace plan as one of the areas to be handed to the Bosnian Croats in exchange for Bosnian Serb rights of access to the Adriatic. It also houses an important power station, which would feed Dubrovnik, and lies on the junction of roads leading north into Bosnia.

Most of the Serb artillery that is threatening Dubrovnik is based in the Trebinje area. The Croatian Puma brigade was reported to be in the Dubrovnik area and there were also unconfirmed reports that the 1st Guards Tiger brigade was in Split.

On Tuesday sources counted 68 Croatian army vehicles heading for Dubrovnik past the Dalma warehouse, south-east of Split, and 43 coaches south of Makarska, which are able to transport up to 2,400 troops. UN sources said that the coaches had been carrying part of the Puma Brigade, and that 1,500 troops of the 4th Brigade, which is based in Split, had also moved to Dubrovnik.

The Bosnian Serbs north of Dubrovnik have guns with a range of more than 20km (12 miles), so the Croatian army will need to push them back from their present positions about 12km from Dubrovnik, north of Trebinje and the valley called Popovo Polje, probably seizing the next range of hills.