Serbs advance, breach defenses of Bosnian town

April 06, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Serbian nationalist fighters poured through breaches in the Bosnian army defense lines around the United Nations-declared "safe area" of Gorazde Monday night and yesterday, setting fire to a dozen villages and forcing more than a thousand Muslims to flee, U.N. officials said.

"The Serbs are going for it," one U.N. official said. "They are going to at least try to take over the eastern end of the pocket and push the Muslims over the river," a reference to the Drina, which bisects the area.

Another U.N. official said the Serbs had advanced northward to within two miles of Gorazde, which is jammed with refugees.

The Serbian breakthrough came just two days after Defense Secretary William J. Perry said the United States would do nothing militarily to stop the Serbs from overrunning Gorazde.

Yesterday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, reiterated that no U.S. troops would be deployed in Bosnia while fighting there continued, and he rejected Bosnian calls for air strikes as an inappropriate action in what he described as small-arms fighting.

The Serbs covet Gorazde because it sits astride a highway linking the Serbian capital, Belgrade, with Serbian-held towns to the southeast. U.N. observers reported last week that the Serbs are also trying to take over a weapons plant in the town on the east bank of the Drina.

Gen. Manojlo Milanovic, chief of staff of the Bosnian Serbs' militia, said: "Our units have defeated the government forces inside the Gorazde pocket and have reached the right bank of the Drina."

Sarajevo radio, most of whose accounts from Gorazde have been confirmed by the United Nations, said last night that 73 people had been killed and about 300 wounded since the offensive began eight days ago.

Kris Janowski, the Sarajevo spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said at a news conference yesterday morning that U.N. workers in Gorazde had confirmed 52 dead and 249 wounded.

"Refugees from about eight villages have arrived in Gorazde," Mr. Janowski said, with 1,500 seeking shelter in private homes, schools and other buildings. "Practically all the civilians south of the Drina bend have been dislocated," he said, indicating that some Muslims fleeing villages south of Gorazde have crossed the Drina from the east bank.

The Serbian offensive shows no signs of easing despite an announcement that the top U.N. military commander in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, is to visit Gorazde today.

Except for some government commandos who have infiltrated through Serbian-held territory, Gorazde's 65,000 people have been cut off since last May from the Bosnian-controlled center of the country.

Bosnian army officers say Gorazde's defenders are dangerously low on ammunition -- no match for the firepower of the Serbs, who receive tanks, howitzers, mortars, ammunition and technical support from the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav army.

Gorazde is the only predominantly Muslim enclave in the Drina Valley that has held out against Serbian forces.

Last June the U.N. Security Council authorized "all necessary measures" to protect six "safe areas" -- Sarajevo, Gorazde, Srebrenica, Zepa, Tuzla and Bihac. But in Gorazde the United Nations has taken few practical steps beyond the deployment of four military observers. The Serbs, who have ignored Security Council resolutions, have never allowed the United Nations to deploy troops near Gorazde.

Sir Michael announced last week that the United Nations would try to deploy additional observers in Gorazde this week, and 800 Ukrainian peacekeeping troops by month's end.

"We've had a lot of other priorities," said Maj. Rob Annink, a U.N. military spokesman. "We are spread very thinly, and we don't want to give up the security of our troops."

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