BOSNIAN Serb tanks were reported to have pulled out of the eastern Muslim town of Gorazde last night after the negotiation of a ceasefire.
But the United Nations special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, said prospects for an immediate improvement of the situation 'do not look good'. 'Gorazde is under serious threat and Serb forces surround the city at a short distance. Shooting and shelling have subsided but intermittently continue and tanks withdraw but reappear.'
Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, who had accused the UN of abandoning Gorazde, said he was not convinced by the agreement: '(The Bosnian Serb leader Radovan) Karadzic is only engaged in tactics and manipulation.'
Bosnian Serb forces earlier swept into Gorazde, ignoring the UN-brokered ceasefire arranged hours before. Muslim soldiers abandoned positions on the outskirts as shells landed near the hospital. Before the renewed Serbian onslaught, UN commanders had sought Nato air strikes but, as on Saturday, they were ruled out by bad weather.
The Unprofor spokesman, Major Rob Annink, said: 'Bosnian army defences around Gorazde have collapsed. They are non-existent. The Serbs can march in now.' He said the only factor that might deter Serb forces from storming into Gorazde, barring an order not to do so from their political leaders, was a fear of ambush in narrow streets teeming with armed, desperate soldiers and refugees.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the UN-designated 'safe area' was quieter, but still tense, by nightfall. 'People tried to force their way into the local UNHCR headquarters when tanks were reported entering the city this afternoon. But . . . the situation is much less alarming now,' the spokesman said.
British UN troops in Sarajevo clashed with Bosnian Serbs early yesterday when their Warrior armoured personnel vehicles came under machinegun and grenade attack near a ceasefire line at Kobilja Glava. UN sources said the unit suffered no casualties but destroyed seven Serbian bunkers. 'We really gave them the what- for,' one source said. After the Serbs threw four hand grenades at the Coldstream Guards and fired at them, the British retaliated with 34 rounds of 30mm cannon, and 500 rounds of small arms fire.
The effective collapse of Gorazde placed a question mark over the credibility of Western policy. The enclave's defences have crumbled in the face of a relentless Serbian attack now in its third week.
President Bill Clinton said yesterday fresh Nato air strikes to help to defend Gorazde were unlikely but he was encouraged that peace talks would resume. Mr Clinton said the UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, has decided close air support would not have 'the desired military effect'.
The Serbs want to take Gorazde to link Serb-held parts of southern and eastern Bosnia, providing a more compact area to merge with Serbia proper. The assault was also, in part, a response to the US-sponsored creation last month of a Muslim- Croat Bosnian federation that laid immediate claim to Serb-controlled areas.
Nato has been unable to prevent Gorazde's effective fall despite launching air strikes on 10 and 11 April, the first attacks on ground targets in the alliance's 45-year history. Serbs responded by seizing up to 200 UN civilian and military personnel. Yesterday they released 19 - 16 Canadian soldiers and three military observers.
Mr Akashi issued a statement on Saturday questioning whether there was any point in continuing the UN's Bosnia operation. However, under the agreement negotiated yesterday between him and Mr Karadzic, heavy weapons were to be withdrawn from a 3km (1.5 mile) exclusion zone. The agreement also called for British, French, Nordic, Ukrainian and Egyptian UN troops to enter Gorazde and restore calm. In return, the UN will not request more Nato air strikes.
Mr Karadzic said yesterday he would be prepared to discuss an overall solution to the Bosnian war 'now America is mentioning lifting of sanctions'. The Washington Post said US officials were discussing a European plan for a phased lifting of economic sanctions against Serbia.
(Photograph and map omitted)
Bosnia crisis, pages 8, 9
Leading article, page 13
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