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No Let Up in Bosnian Fighting on Eve of Peace Talks

By Kim Murphy
Los Angeles Times

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina

A day before Bosnia's warring factions were to meet in Geneva to accept or reject a plan for ending 17 months of civil war, there did not appear Sunday to be much enthusiasm for peace in this city that is one of the main flash points of the conflict.

Spanish peacekeeping troops remained trapped for the fourth straight night on the east side of Mostar. Muslims were holding them hostage for protection from the Croats, though the Spanish unit announced it would maintain a permanent military presence on both the Croat and Muslim sides of the city in an attempt to halt the fighting.

The deadly game of tit-for-tat that has turned much of the city into rubble, sandbag piles and burned skeletons of buildings continued unabated, three days after the cease-fire that opened the way for the United Nations to enter Mostar on Thursday.

Near one ruined building, a group of Croat soldiers sat playing cards in the dappled afternoon light, cheerfully unmindful of the front line just 50 meters away. There, despite the half-hearted cease-fire, Muslims and Croats were enthusiastically exchanging anti-aircraft and small-arms fire, punctuated by the thud and boom of an occasional mortar round. Screeching NATO patrol planes played harmony.

As a group of people approached down an alley, the Croat soldiers threw down their cards, rose and screamed a warning: "Snipers!" One of the soldiers lunged at the man heading the group, which had wandered into the deadly path of a sniper's nest. Three people had died in the alley in the past two days.

Tears of fury welled in the old soldier's eyes as he chastised the unwary approacher. His hand suddenly went for his gun, and it seemed he would shoot the man who had allowed a Muslim sniper a chance to kill him. The other soldiers wrestled him away. One of the men who died was the soldier's friend, and his son fell to another sniper's bullet, they explained.

Then the card game began again.

Croat military leaders tended to grin when asked if this is what a cease-fire is like. Incoming rounds, fired from the Muslim area of eastern Mostar, they described as "provocations." The much more frequent boom of outgoing artillery from Croat lines was called "response to provocations."

Here, in the heart of what Bosnian Croats hope to make their capital city, there was derision for the Geneva peace plan's proposal to turn warring Mostar into a united city administered by the European Community.