Muslim-Led Troops Push Offensive In Central Bosnia
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Muslim-led Bosnian government troops pursued their quest for territory in central Bosnia today, attacking villages near their captured stronghold of Travnik.
Authorities in Croatia, enraged by Muslim attacks on former Bosnian Croat allies, demanded an immediate halt to what they termed ″unheard of ethnic cleansing, the complete destruction of Croat villages ... and the killing and expulsion of hundreds of innocent civilians.″
Bosnian government troops fired over the heads of some fleeing Croat civilians late Tuesday, said Cmdr. Barry Frewer, U.N. peacekeepers’ spokesman in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. British U.N. troops witnessed one incident of Bosnian troops shooting at civilians, apparently without killing any.
The battle for Travnik, the biggest clash of the war between Bosnian Muslims and Croats, has expanded into a push for Muslim control of a triangle of territory between Turbe, Travnik and Zenica.
The offensive by Bosnian government troops apparently was prompted by a desperate desire to acquire land and wreak revenge after months of defeats by Bosnian Serbs and humiliation by Bosnian Croats.
By capturing Travnik, the Muslim-led government forces moved a step closer to linking their strongholds of Tuzla and Zenica to the north with the Muslim- controlled towns of Jablanica and Konjic, 30 miles south of Travnik.
Bosnian government reinforcements from Zenica, 18 miles east of Travnik, launched a pre-dawn attack on hillside villages between the two towns, said Peter Osborne, a spokesman for U.N. peacekeepers in the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
Thousands of Croat troops and civilians have been driven from the Travnik area, with many even seeking refuge with their supposed enemies, Bosnian Serbs dug in on Mount Vlasic above Travnik.
Maj. James Miles, a spokesman for British U.N. peacekeepers, said that on Tuesday, some of his troops came across Bosnian government forces firing on civilians in a village near Travnik.
Once they heard shots, the Britons ″moved up, came across houses being burned, and there they saw Bosnian Muslims, that’s (Bosnian) army people, firing on civilians fleeing,″ Miles told the British Broadcasting Corp.
″Many of the houses had been broken into, fired upon, set fire to. Explosives had been used, grenades probably, in the houses,″ he added. ″The Croats were very much in the role of defending that area, but I’m told there were only some 30 defenders in that village. They were very much in fear for their lives when the soldiers came across them.″
Croatian radio claimed Tuesday that at least 250 people had died in the battle for Travnik, and about 15,000 had fled.
Miles said there was evidence that ″quite a number″ of civilians had been killed, but there were no firm casualty figures.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman is in China. His chief of staff summoned Bosnia’s ambassador in Croatia to protest the ″brutal aggression″ against Croats in Bosnia, Tudjman’s office said.
British U.N. forces sheltered hundreds of Croats who took refuge from advancing Muslim forces in a church in the town of Guca Gora, just east of Travnik, Miles said.
As weapons fire echoed down valleys around Travnik, Red Cross officials negotiated with Bosnian Serbs to allow hundreds of Croats who took refuge on Mount Vlasic into Croatia proper.
The first contingent of Croat civilians was due in Novska, Croatia, later today.
Serb forces, meanwhile, held an unknown number of Croat troops at Manjaca, a detention camp that became notorious last summer as a jail for Muslims.
The hatreds and shifting local alliances thrown up by Bosnia’s 15-month war are on full display in the Travnik area. It was not clear, however, whether the Travnik offensive was being coordinated by Bosnian army commanders in Sarajevo.
On Tuesday, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic announced changes in the government army’s leadership and structure that are apparently aimed at bringing local commanders and troops under tighter control.
He said ranks would be introduced within 30 days, and named Rasim Delic as overall army chief, replacing Sefer Halilovic, who drops to No. 4 in the command. Halilovic, a Muslim native of Serbia, is considered too militant by some in the government.
Delic is a Yugoslav-trained officer who had been in charge of strategic planning.
Some Bosnian government officials who still place hope in international peace efforts privately have voiced fears that the Travnik offensive will undo them. The government officially has said nothing about the Travnik offensive.
The battle underscored anew the futility of U.N. attempts to bring peace to the republic through resolutions not backed by muscle.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher was meeting European counterparts in Luxembourg today to try to patch up differences on Bosnia and reassure Europeans about Washington’s commitment to achieving a peace settlement.