Krajina clashes cloud Geneva peace hopes

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The Independent Online
ZAGREB - The Croatian army shelled United Nations peace soldiers in Krajina, a Serb-held enclave in Croatia, yesterday in a dramatic escalation of fighting which dimmed prospects for an end to the civil wars in former Yugoslavia.

A French soldier was critically wounded in the shelling around the insurgent 'Serb Republic of Krajina', and Serb leaders mobilised troops across the region, seizing arms from United Nations safe-keeping deposits, the UN commander said.

Lieutenant-General Satish Nambiar said Serb militants had raided most of the 200-odd storage depots and taken tanks, artillery pieces and other large weaponry. 'Serbs have broken into the depots, taken out the heavy weapons and are mobilising their territorial defence forces. We're back to square one,' he said in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, during a briefing on the Krajina clashes. .

The United Nations Protection Force (Unprofor) spokesman Shannon Boyd said a French UN soldier attached to a battalion at Zadar's Zemunik airport, which Croatian forces were trying to wrest from Serb control, was wounded in gunfire.

The Serb side in Knin, Krajina's capital, said it had lost 21 of its crack 'special purpose' force in a noon ambush on Friday by a Croatian army sabotage unit on a road near Gracac.

The fighting smashed a one- year-old UN-supervised ceasefire in Croatia and jolted the peace conference which resumed its efforts in Geneva yesterday to end the nine-month-old Serb-Muslim-Croat civil war in Bosnia.

In Geneva, the United Nations spokesman Fred Eckhard said the leaders of Croatia and rump Yugoslavia had agreed to attempt to stop the fighting in Krajina.

Chiefs of the three main Bosnian communities - the Muslims, Serbs and Croats - earlier pushed ahead with talks in Geneva on an international deal to end the republic's 10-month war. But Serb and Yugoslav leaders said the Croatia fighting could block the peace accord.

There were conflicting claims by Croats and Serbs on whether Croat military action was still under way yesterday. But a Reuter television crew in Zadar, on the edge of the conflict zone, reported mortar, artillery and machine- gun fire near the town in the morning and afternoon.

'The Croatians fired on one or two of our positions in the town of Biljane, north-east of Zadar,' Lieutenant-General Nambiar said. 'They should have known we were there.' He said Unprofor had protested to General Janko Bobetko, the supreme commander of the Croatian armed forces, over the incident in which the French soldier was wounded.

Reuter Television crew members said Croat troops, encamped in hills about three miles west of Zadar, were firing laser-guided missiles at a Serb village which was shooting back with artillery. Croatian police sources in Zadar said several mortar rounds hit the outskirts of the city yesterday afternoon and at least six Croat soldiers were killed and 15 injured on Friday. The Reuter crew saw a number of Croatian soldiers in the town's main hospital wounded by sniper bullets or shrapnel.

The Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency said Croatian forces using tanks had kept up attacks on southern parts of the enclave throughout the night.