THIS WEEK IN BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA
BOSNIAN, CROAT FORCES SWEEP THROUGH THE WEST. In perhaps the most stunning military action of the war, Bosnian and Croatian armies rolled across Serb- occupied towns in western Bosnia this week, winning control of an estimated 2,400 square miles of territory -- more than 12 percent of the entire country. UN officials said Monday that the Bosnian-Croat federation now holds roughly half of the republic. "It's about 50-50 ... and that's a cautious estimate," UN spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Vernon told Associated Press. Last month, the split was about 70-30. "The balance continues to shift daily," Newsday reports. The Bosnian-Croat federation won control of Jajce, Donji Vakuf, Bosanski Petrovac, Kljuc, Sanski Most, Drvar, and Sipovo. The small village of Vozuca was also taken, securing the road between the cities of Tuzla and Zenica. Military analysts say the Bosnian and Croatian forces took advantage of damage to Serb communication and logistical capabilities caused by NATO air strikes. Some observers, though, believe Serb forces put up limited resistance expecting they might lose the territory anyway in a peace settlement. "Battle-hardened Sarajevans have been amazed by nightly TV images bombarding their living rooms," AP reports. "Scenes of captured, flower- bedecked tanks carrying home victorious soldiers have replaced the footage most had become inured to -- images of shattered bodies lying in pools of blood in the streets of Sarajevo and other Serb-besieged cities. "Sunday night's television showed thousands of joyous Bosnian refugees, waving flags from their car windows, returning home to Bihac." Yesterday (Monday), Bosnia's ambassador to Croatia, Kasim Trnka, told Croatian TV that a battle was underway for control of Serb-occupied Prijedor. That town saw some of the worst human-rights abuses of the war, at the Serb-run Omarska and Kereterm concentration camps.
SERB CIVILIANS FLEE. Tens of thousands of Serb refugees fled before the advancing Bosnian and Croatian forces, jamming roadways and filling Serb- occupied Banja Luka -- the largest Bosnian city under Serb control. "Most looked healthy and clean and had clearly had enough time to prepare quite large loads of belongings before fleeing," Reuters reports. Early in the war, Muslim and Croatian civilians were driven from Banja Luka. Many of the men were imprisoned in concentration camps where inmates were tortured, starved, beaten, and murdered; some officers who ran the camps have been indicted for war crimes by an international tribunal. Serb nationalists also blew up all of the city's mosques, in an effort to wipe out any traces of Muslim history and culture there. The few Muslims and Croats left in the region have lived in constant fear of robberies, beatings, and attacks by Serb militia. Non-Serbs there have been denied permission to work, study, use public transportation, or sell goods in city markets. Aid workers expressed fear that Serb nationalists will retaliate against the 35,000 non-Serbs still left in Banja Luka. "We are very concerned about their safety," said Mans Nyberg with the UN.
NATO, UN URGE `RESTRAINT.' Western leaders Monday called on the Bosnian- Croat alliance to stop their advance, fearing additional gains could upset the 51-49 territorial division proposed in the latest U.S.-sponsored peace plan. But after several earlier peace proposals floundered due to Serb rejections -- and Western leaders redrew their plans to reflect what they called "reality on the ground" -- the Bosnian government has concluded it can only win favorable terms by force. "The best diplomacy is created on the ground," said Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey. "We had to learn that the hard way.''
`PEACE PLAN' UNCERTAIN. Retired U.S. Gen. Anton Tus, an adviser to the Croatian government, told Newsday's Roy Gutman that the 51-49 plan being pushed by the Clinton Administration is "incomprehensible and unacceptable." Serbs were only one-third of the pre-war population of Bosnia, he notes, and a large number of them stayed loyal to the Bosnian government. "This means that less than 22 percent of the population will be given 49 percent of the land," Tus said.
DRIVE TOWARD BANJA LUKA? U.S. officials Monday were adamant that Bosnian and Croat forces not attack Banja Luka, fearing that would bring the Serb-led Yugoslav Army directly into the war. Bosnian government officials called for negotiations with "responsible" Serb leaders in the city to avoid a battle, and allow Serbs there to remain in their homes. Bosnian officials want Serb leaders there to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Bosnian government. Serb nationalists have admitted suffering major territorial losses, but said they've regrouped and will defend Banja Luka. "A Bosnian army source confirmed the Serbs had strengthened their defensive lines, and said government and Croat troops were encountering much stiffer resistance," AP reported Monday.
OTHER ADVANCES. The Bosnian army also reported gains around Mt. Ozren in central Bosnia, taking 36 square miles in the area Monday. The army appealed to Serb civilians in the area to view Bosnian soldiers as their "liberators from fascism."
SERBS PULL SOME WEAPONS FROM AROUND SARAJEVO. Serbs besieging Sarajevo began pulling back heavy weapons from a 20-kilometer "exclusion zone" around the city, an action that extended a three-day pause in air strikes for another 72 hours. Serb nationalists have until Wednesday evening to complete the task, or face a resumption of NATO air strikes. Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, who vowed he wouldn't withdraw the weapons, is reportedly in a Belgrade hospital being treated for kidney stones, according to the Russian Itar-Tass news agency. Serb forces were ordered to pull back all mortars of 82mm or larger, and artillery 100mm and larger -- slightly stricter terms than initially proposed by U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke. However, that was a major concession from the original NATO and UN demand, that all guns over 12.7mm be withdrawn. Bosnian officials were furious that the Serbs would be allowed to keep scores of large guns around the city. "It doesn't make any difference whether you are killed by a 120-mm or an 82-mm mortar shell," said Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. Serb nationalist forces also agreed to NATO and UN demands that the Sarajevo airport and several land routes be opened for aid convoys. Aid flights resumed for the first time since April; and one convoy arrived by road directly from the Adriatic coast. Food is more plentiful in the city, and prices have plummeted in recent days. However, many Sarajevans have no way to earn the German marks needed to buy food in the city's markets.
CITY STILL UNDER SIEGE. "Despite the optimism of UN and western officials, Bosnian Serb withdrawal of heavy weapons from around Sarajevo will not mean the 41-month siege of the city has been lifted," Reuters notes. "Even if the Serbs meet the UN-NATO ultimatum, hundreds of smaller mortars, artillery pieces and anti-aircraft guns, thousands of soldiers with automatic weapons and sniper rifles and tens of thousands of land mines still ring Sarajevo. Anyone approaching a front line could be on a suicide mission." "Serbs are still on the hills and can create a massacre any time they want," Edina Hadzic, 18, told the New York Times. "We have had these peaceful moments before when the UN and NATO got involved and our situation got better," Himzo, 42, told Reuters. "In 1994 we had some better times but then the UN and NATO got tired and the shelling started again." Other Sarajevans, though, believe that recent events finally signal the beginning of an end to the city's nightmare. "This is the end of the war, definitely," Medzed Muzaferija, a local businessman, told the NY Times. "It's over and there's no turning back."
UTILITIES STILL CUT. "Several hundred thousand Sarajevo residents have no running water, natural gas or electricity supplies because the Serbs have turned them off," according to Reuters. "Three-and-a-half years into the war elderly women are still lugging jerry cans of water up flights of stairs in residential towers and huddling around candles at night." Restoration of electricity, water, and natural gas to the city was not part of the NATO/UN ultimatum.
CONCERN ABOUT CROAT INTENTIONS. Some supporters of a unified, multi-ethnic Bosnia are concerned about Croat intentions in the republic. "Up to now, the Croats have shown no inclination to integrate the land they control with the federation or the central Government in Sarajevo," the NY Times notes. "All telephone lines in the Croatian areas of Bosnia are linked to Zagreb." Mostar, which Croatian nationalists sought as the capital of a Croatian state within Bosnia-Hercegovina, remains divided, with Muslims relegated to an old section of town that was devastated by Croatian artillery. The Times says it is "almost impossible to call Sarajevo from west Mostar, which is Croatian- controlled." And, Croat troops entering Bosnian towns are raising the Croatian, not Bosnian flags. Because of the international arms embargo on Bosnia, the country's army must depend on heavy weaponry from Croatia.
THOUSANDS STILL MISSING. The International Red Cross reiterated this week that 8,000 Muslim men from Srebrenica are still missing since Serb nationalists overran the "UN safe haven" in July. Witnesses say many of the unarmed men were slaughtered by Serb soldiers, and U.S. satellite photos show evidence of mass graves in the area. About 3,000 men were seen being arrested and led away by Serb soldiers. Another 5,000 "have simply disappeared," says Red Cross spokeswoman Jessica Barry.
PEACEKEEPERS KILLED. A Danish peacekeeper was killed amidst fighting between Serb and Croatian soldiers in northwest Bosnia, the UN announced Monday. On Friday, a French peacekeeper died in an accident on the treacherous road over Mt. Igman near Sarajevo.
SUSPICIOUS FIRE. Studio 99, an independent radio and television station based in Sarajevo, was damaged Friday by a fire that some believe was deliberately set. The station has been critical of the Bosnian government, and most recently the government's acceptance of the 51-49 territorial split critics say rewards Serb aggression. "We are deeply convinced that behind all this are our political enemies," Studio 99 co-founder Asim Abdurahmanovic told AP.
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