Yugoslav army shells Muslim posts in Bosnia

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The Independent Online
In an ominous new twist to the Bosnian war, the rump Yugoslav army started bombarding Muslim positions inside Bosnia yesterday, after accusing the Muslims of bombarding two villages inside Serbia.

The attacks were the first direct involvement by the Yugoslav army in the civil war in Bosnia since they withdrew from the republic after its declaration of independence. Until now Yugoslavia, consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro, has denied any direct involvement in Bosnia's fighting.

Over the weekend the Yugoslav government met for a crisis session to authorise the unprecedented military response to what they claimed were two separate Muslim grenade attacks on the Drina riverside spa town of Bajina Basta and on a hydroelectric plant a few miles away.

Four grenades landed in the centre of Bajina Basta, exploding near the hotel and the main supermarket, according to Serbian radio. Later they reported a separate grenade attack on the nearby hydroelectric plant. The radio added that Yugoslav army units based in Uzice, in south-east Serbia, were hitting Bosnian Muslim positions 'with all available means', in retaliation.

The embattled Muslims of eastern Bosnia, who are trapped inside a couple of enclaves, almost certainly did not deliberately target positions inside Serbia. So the grenades which fell on Serbian territory probably strayed out of the battle that has been raging for several days on the Bosnian side of the Drina river.

Muslims and Serbs have been locked recently in a bloody struggle for control of the border village of Skelani, which has left dozens dead and many more wounded on both sides. The Serbs seized Skelani at the beginning of the war and now the Muslims are trying to recapture it. The fighting has left at least 16 dead on the Serbian side so far, and has sparked off the flight into Serbia of several hundred Serbian civilians.

It is feared that the artillery exchanges across the Drina could give hardliners in Belgrade the excuse they want to move into the Bosnian conflict on the side of the Bosnian Serbs, who have suffered some setbacks recently in the face of determined Muslim attacks. General Zivota Panic, chief of the Yugoslav army, recently warned that Serbia would intervene militarily if Serbian-held lands in Bosnia or Croatia were threatened.

The upsurge in fighting made an unpromising backdrop to a forthcoming session of the Bosnian Serb assembly in Pale, near Sarajevo, where the delegates are expected to endorse the Geneva peace plan for Bosnia drawn up by the peace negotiators, Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance. It is increasingly likely that the Bosnian Serb assembly will vote in favour of the plan, but unlikely that their assent will make any difference to the level of fighting in the republic. The Bosnian Serbs have already warned that their agreement to the Geneva plan 'in principle' does not mean they agree to the all-important borders of the provinces shown on the Geneva map.

A United Nations food convoy has finally reached a besieged Muslim enclave at Zepa, near Skelani. An eight-truck convoy bearing 80 tons of food had been forced to halt for two nights on the outskirts of Zepa, after Serbs placed barricades on the road to stop the food reaching the town.

Local radio ham reports have painted a desperate picture of mass death from starvation and cold in Zepa, where a peacetime population of 8,000 has more than tripled after an influx of refugees. They have reported dozens of people, including many children, freezing to death in the shacks and caves where they have been forced to take refuge.