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Fighting in Bosnian Hotspots, Prisoners Freed in Croatia

September 24, 1993

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Fighting between Muslim-led government and Croat forces flared in central Bosnia, but a sign of goodwill came today when 516 Muslim prisoners, all suffering from malnutrition, were freed.

The detainees were released from the Bosnian Croats’ notorious Dretelj detention camp in the southwest and taken to the island of Korcula off the Croatian coast, U.N. and Red Cross officials said.

They were released Thursday, but their departure was delayed by Bosnian Croat women who blockaded the camp, demanding the release of Croat prisoners in Jablanica and Konjic, Muslim-held towns some 40 miles to the north.

Red Cross officials said about 1,000 more detainees would remain in Dretelj. Detainees who were released earlier reported appalling conditions, including shortages of food and water, beatings, and overcrowding.

Parts of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, came under heavy shelling late Thursday. There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties, but one French U.N. soldier was badly wounded in the abdomen, U.N. spokesman Lt. Col. Bill Aikman said.

Two other U.N. peacekeepers with the British battalion in Vitez in central Bosnia were wounded while scrambling for their armored vehicle under mortar fire, Aikman said.

Government forces were apparently aiming at the Croat militia command in the hotly contested city.

To the southwest, government and Croat troops battled in Gornji Vakuf.

And in divided Mostar, in southwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina, firefights erupted Thursday night, Aikman said.

Bosnian government forces reported gains this week along a 50-mile front line north from Mostar, in an apparent attempt to secure a supply route to central Bosnia and Sarajevo for the coming winter.

More than 50,000 Muslims are trapped on the east side of Mostar, which is besieged by Croats who want the city as the capital of their ministate when -and if - Serbs, Croats and the Muslim-led government agree to a peace plan that would divide Bosnia.

The Bosnian Parliament is to meet Tuesday to consider the plan, revised in hectic negotiations supervised by international mediators. The factions were deadlocked on the government’s demands for access to the Adriatic Sea.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim Slav, has said the plan is still unsatisfactory because other territorial demands have not been met.

The release of the Muslim prisoners from Dretelj followed an agreement earlier this month between Izetbegovic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to cease fire, to allow free passage of aid and to release all detainees.

At the outset of the war, government and Croat forces were allied against Bosnian Serbs who rebelled against a Muslim-Croat vote to secede from Serb- dominated Yugoslavia. The Serbs took control of 70 percent of Bosnia and Croats control much of the rest. Bitter fighting erupted months ago between government and Croat troops over remaining, still contested territory.

Up to 200,000 people are dead or missing in a year-and-a-half of war, and 2 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Update hourly