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Northern Battle Will Decide War’s Outcome, Serbs Say

June 3, 1994

DOBOJ, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ From their front-line positions on the outskirts of this northern Bosnian town, Serb soldiers gazed Friday at an elegant minaret in the tranquil Muslim village about 300 yards away.

Serb officers believe that the battle that could determine the outcome of the 2-year-old war may soon be fought on these lush green hillsides.

Doboj is on the western flank of the land corridor linking Serb holdings in Bosnia and Croatia with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. The Bosnian Serbs are squeezed in by government positions from both east and west.

The area is too significant for both sides to remain quiet for long.

″We will respect every political decision, but the only military option that exists is to fight until one of the sides is completely defeated,″ said Lt. Col. Miko Skoric, the commander of the Serb defense of Doboj.

On the front line 20 miles northeast of Doboj, the government-held towns of Gradacac and Ribnica suffered exceptionally heavy shelling. Some 1,400 shells fell in the area on Thursday and the bombardment continued Friday, said Maj. Rob Annink, the U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo.

The government-held town of Maglaj, some 35 miles to the south, also came under sustained Serb shelling, Annink said. Seventy-nine shells landed in the town, 10 of them striking a local school.

In Doboj, a quiet day turned into a general alert at sundown, as incoming and outgoing cannon fire echoed in the fields around town.

″They used to be afraid of us - now they seem to be encouraged and on the offensive,″ Serb Lt. Radovan Dugonjic said before the cannonades began, standing next to a Yugoslav-made T-55 tank and pointing to the nearby villages of Matuzici and Krasevo nestled on the densely forested Matuzica hill.

The tank, its barrel covered by a protective canvas shroud, looked as though it had not been used for some time.

Relaxing in the sunshine, the Serbs exuded an air of carefree confidence. A few hundred yards from the government trenches, they put up a sign reading ″Serb soldiers’ beach.″

The Bosnian government soldiers they are facing used to be their their friends before the war. That ended when the Serbs occupied Doboj and drove out its Muslim and Croat inhabitants at the start of the war.

More than 200,000 people have been reported killed or missing in the 2-year old war that broke out when Serbs rebelled against the government after Muslims and Croats voted to secede from Yugoslavia.

Armed and led by the Yugoslav army, the Serbs quickly occupied 70 percent of the state. With the recent renewal of its alliance with the Croats, the government has regained territory in north-central Bosnia, including some ground on Mount Ozren, overlooking Doboj from the south.

Doboj has long had the dubious distinction of being the only Serb-held town to be shelled regularly by Bosnian guns. But the shelling has intensified over the last two months, with 18 people killed and 64 wounded by the bombardment.

Most people in town reacted with an air of tired resignation to Friday’s general alert.

In the local hospital, 14-year-old Nebojsa Panic was recovering from wounds he suffered on Thursday from a shell splinter.

″The Muslims shot at us, then our guns responded, and then their shell landed and the shrapnel hit me. It did not hurt immediately,″ Panic said.

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