Zepa Muslims tell of attacks

The first reports of Serb atrocities against refugees from the fallen Muslim enclave of Zepa began to emerge yesterday. There was also concern for the fate of 36 refugees - mostly wounded men - removed from buses by Serb soldiers.

The Bosnian government yesterday accused the Serbs of beating men, possibly raping two women and robbing other refugees, allegations the UN is investigating. Although the alleged attacks did not approach the scale of the atrocities committed after the fall of the Srebrenica enclave two weeks ago, they were being taken seriously by UN officials.

"We have initial reports that 36 people may have been taken off buses, mainly males [who are] lightly wounded," Alexander Ivanko, the UN spokesman in Sarajevo, said. The UN believes the Serbs may be holding the men at a house 200 metres from what was a Ukrainian UN check-point before the Serb victory. The men are presumed to have been travelling with other wounded Bosnians evacuated to Sarajevo for medical treatment.

Most of the civilians from Zepa are safe in government-held territory, according to UN officials. The Bosnian government said it would agree to swap all its prisoners of war if up to 1,500 Muslim fighters holding out in hills above Zepa were also evacuated by the UN.

General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander, has demanded the surrender of all men of military age for an eventual prisoner-of-war swap; the government has agreed, if the men from Zepa are given safe passage out by the UN. "We are asking the UN to evacuate the men by helicopter so they can be part of an all-for-all exchange," Hasan Muratovic, the Bosnian minister for UN relations, said in Sarajevo. "We are ready to free all Serb prisoners on our territory, even those who should never be let out of jail."

Despite the talks, there was sporadic fighting in the area yesterday. "There were five detonations and some firing incidents," Mr Ivanko said. "The Serbs are trying to smoke out the armed men from the hills."