Muslims call halt to offensive

Bosnia ceasefire: As government army silences its guns, Serbs argue over causes of defeat
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Battlefields fell quiet in north-west Bosnia yesterday as the government, apparently satisfied with its autumn offensive in the north- west and under international pressure to adhere to the cease-fire it signed, halted attacks on Serbs in the area.

Victories by the Bosnian army in Sanski Most and Mrkonjic Grad have sown panic among Bosnian Serb leaders, who took the unusual step of inviting UN observers to inspect the front lines. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, reopened old wounds with his military commanders by blaming unnamed generals for the defeats.

UN monitors headed for Mrkonjic Grad last night; their arrival should improve the peace-keepers' ability to monitor the cease-fire and report breaches. Hostility between the warring armies is fiercest in north- west Bosnia, where Serbs earlier killed or expelled thousands of Muslims.

The UN, if it is allowed access on the government side, will want to investigate reports of recent atrocities and older mass graves on territory lost by the Serbs. Bosnian troops took journalists to see 14 bodies, dead for several weeks, at two sites near Sanski Most. They suggested they were Muslims used as slave labour and shot by retreating Serb forces.

Emir Karic, a Sanski Most official, said about 300 men were unaccounted for and feared dead: "The Serbs briefly withdrew from Sanski Most over a month ago but after two days came back to harass the Muslims. They expelled about 2,000 women and children to Zenica and Travnik. They kept about 1,000 men." He added that half of those had been forced to withdraw with the Serbs. "We found 200 alive here and 300 are feared killed. We have already found and identified 100 bodies in various locations."

The ground between Prijedor - the one prize still in Serb hands - Sanski Most and Mrkonjic Grad, which once formed a defensive line around the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka, is infamous for atrocities committed against Muslims in 1992 and, the UN says, until the past few days.

By a twist of fate, 25,000 Serb civilians fleeing the Bosnian advance are now housed at Omarska, once a concentration camp run by Serbs. The defeats and the plight of more than 100,000 Serb refugees from the battle have traumatised the Bosnian Serb leadership.

"We must know who is responsible for a considerable loss of territory and military defeats, and those responsible will have to bear the consequences," Mr Karadzic said.

However, nine independent members of the Bosnian Serb assembly called for a "government of national salvation" to replace Mr Karadzic's administration.

n Mons, Belgium (Reuter) - Russia and Nato got down to the details yesterday of planning a 60,000-strong force to implement an eventual Bosnia peace settlement. Russia has offered up to 20,000 troops but has insisted that they will not come under direct Nato control.