SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Four days after the leaders of seven major industrial democracies demanded an end to Serbian military offensives in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbian nationalist forces began a major assault yesterday on the last big Muslim-controlled town in eastern Bosnia.
The attack by the Serbs on Gorazde, about 70 miles east of Sarajevo, threw the Bosnian government into further desperation.
With the capture of Gorazde, where 50,000 people are under siege, Serbian forces would be free to concentrate their attacks on Sarajevo, the capital, where government forces are weakened daily because of diminishing supplies of ammunition.
Except for Sarajevo, no Bosnian town has faced as bleak a situation as Gorazde, where 50,000 people -- most Muslims, 23,000 of them refugees from previous Serbian attacks elsewhere in eastern Bosnia -- have been surrounded and cut off for more than three months.
Amateur radio operators, who have been the town's only link with the outside world, have said that Gorazde's people have been eating grass, that 15 children a day are dying of malnutrition and other food deficiency diseases, and that surgery on the wounded has been carried out without anesthesia.
Maj. Sefer Halilovic, the Bosnian government's military commander, said that the Serbian forces moved columns of heavy armor toward Gorazde over a 48-hour period and attacked at dawn from three sides.
An amateur radio operator's report quoted in a Sarajevo broadcast called the situation after a six-hour bombardment "hellish," with much of the town burning and heavy casualties taken by the defenders.
Top government officials said that they doubted that the defenders could last more than a day or two before Gorazde fell, like every other Muslim town in eastern Bosnia.
Those Muslim centers along the border with Serbia have become ghost towns, with their people dead, in one of the detention camps where 100,000 Muslims are said to be held, or among the tide of refugees.
It is part of Belgrade's ethnic "cleansing" in eastern Bosnia, where nearly 80 percent of the 500,000 people were Muslims when the war began. The Belgrade government plans to settle Serbs in the region.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, returning here yesterday afternoon aboard a Western relief flight from a meeting Thursday with President Bush in Helsinki, was greeted by angry demands from Muslim fighters that he release scarce stocks of ammunition for an attempt to break through to Gorazde.
When he arrived, he seemed stunned by the worsening situation and the fears among his officials of more massacres. The Bosnian government has estimated that more than 50,000 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed so far in the three-month war, and that 1.5 million people, a third of the population, have been driven from their homes.
Mr. Izetbegovic had approached the encounter with Mr. Bush as last-chance opportunity to appeal for Western military ZTC intervention to end the siege of Sarajevo. At worst he hoped for a pledge of American weapons.
Mr. Bush gave neither, and the strong condemnation of Serbia and its forces by Mr. Bush and other leaders of the economic summit in Munich and by the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, was seen here as a poor consolation prize.
"He didn't say so exactly, but I had the impression from the remarks that he made, that Vietnam was very much on his mind," Mr. Izetbegovic said of his meeting with Mr. Bush.