Serb supply road under attack

Bosnia: Lull in fighting shattered 8 Frencholdiers recount how they kept Bosnian Serbs at bay
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The Independent Online
A fierce battle erupted yesterday afternoon along the main Serb supply road to their rebel "capital", Pale, after several days of relative calm following the start of a Bosnian army offensive around Sarajevo.

The fighting, which subsided after about 40 minutes, came as UN officials and observers vainly sought an explanation for the three-day lull. It is too early to assess whether the government attack has run out of steam because of high casualties; or it has achieved its objectives; or this is merely the start of a long, slow push to break the siege.

French troops at an observation post north of Sarajevo yesterday destroyed a Bosnian Serb tank that fired on them from a weapons collection point, a UN spokeswoman said. The soldiers returned fire with a light Sagaie tank and destroyed the turret of the American M-18 tank used by the Serbs.

A convoy of food aid destined for Sarajevo was turned back in the government- held town of Tarcin, west of the city, because the Bosnian army said the route was not safe. The UN is likely to send another batch of aid today. A convoy did reach the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, but trucks bound for Gorazde passed a fourth day stuck at a Bosnian Serb checkpoint.

The UN, which is rapidly running out of food and fuel, sent three supply convoys to troops in the enclaves. By evening the Srebrenica trucks were close to their destination, and those bound for Gorazde and Zepa were across the Yugoslav border and heading through Serb-held territory.

As fighting died down in Sarajevo, diplomats took the opportunity to try to restart the peace process .

The new European Union envoy, Carl Bildt, made his first official visit to the region yesterday following an unexpected French request on Monday for him to open talks with all the warring parties. Accompanied by the UN mediator, Thorvald Stoltenberg, Mr Bildt made his first stop in Mostar, the former battleground between Bosnian Croats and Muslims, which is now under EU administration. He was also due to visit Zagreb for talks with President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia.

Perhaps the most significant meeting of the day took place in Pale, where the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, concluded overnight talks with the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, yesterday afternoon, thus ending Pale's brief period of international isolation.

After his talks in Pale, Mr Churkin returned to Belgrade for a second meeting with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Mr Churkin said on Monday that he brought new peace proposals from Moscow but declined to elaborate.

It is assumed that both Mr Bildt and Mr Churkin are trying to push a French-Russian-Serb plan for an international peace conference on Bosnia, a move supported by the Bosnian Serbs but rejected by the ruling Muslims, who have already agreed to a plan dividing Bosnia roughly in half between themselves and the Serbs.