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Heavy Fighting As Rebels Close-in On Another U.N. Safe Zone

July 28, 1995

SABICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Thick black piles of smoke billowed from fields around this rebel-controlled village Friday as opponents of the Bosnian government tried to close in on another U.N.- controlled ``safe area.″

This time rebel Serbs and Croats, helped by renegade Muslims, are targeting the Bihac enclave in western Bosnia.

In this village 25 miles northwest of the town of Bihac, renegade Muslim troops fired tanks, mortars and howitzers on the Bosnian government’s defensive positions. The ground shook with every deafening explosion.

Distant heavy machine-gun fire between rounds of shelling indicated that infantry troops were also engaged in the attack.

The heavy fighting comes amid reports that the regular Croatian army is gaining ground and is close to completely cutting off rebel Serb-held territory in Croatia from Serb-held territory in Bosnia.

``When we enter Bihac, we will take back all they have stolen from us,″ said Meho, who was operating a 120 mm mortar.

Meho, like other soldiers loyal to the renegade Muslim leader Fikret Abdic, refused to give his last name, fearing reprisals against relatives living only six miles away in the Bosnian government-held town of Cazin.

Abdic’s troops, helped by Bosnian and Croatian Serb soldiers, have been successfully regaining territory the government’s 5th Corps took in an offensive about a year ago.

``We’re still not on the lines we held last summer, but this time we’ll go beyond them,″ said a renegade Muslim commander with the code name Munja, which means flash.

It appears that the ultimate goal of Abdic’s troops is taking control of the Bihac pocket before Bosnian government and Croatian troops have time to reinforce the exhausted government 5th Corps.

After the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa, Croatia and Bosnia agreed last weekend to increase military cooperation.

Croatian forces crossed into Bosnia Friday, capturing the strategic western town of Grahovo and sealing control of a key Serb supply route.

``We believe the Serbs will hold their lines,″ Munja said between artillery breaks. ``Otherwise, we’re all lost.″

Munja and the rebel forces are still more than 50 miles north of Grahovo, but the Croat victory could squeeze the Serb side of supplies.

Still, the rebels in Bihac are confident of more victories.

``We liberated this village three days ago and now we’re taking Todorovo,″ said Meho, pointing at the neighboring hill.

``After, Cazin will be our target,″ he said.

In the nearby town of Velika Kladusa, Mersiha Hasanbegovic, a 35-year-old housewife, said despite being a Muslim she would rather be dead than have the government’s 5th Corps return.

She said government troops kicked her out of her house in a nearby village during an earlier fight between the 5th Corps and Abdic’s forces. Now, she said, all of her closest Muslim relatives are fighting the 5th Corps.

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