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Croatian Serb Forces Bombard Muslim Positions in Bihac Pocket

By John Pomfret
The Washington Post
VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Croatian Serb forces, firing tank and artillery shells, blasted Muslim positions in the Bihac pocket in northern Bosnia Monday, and U.N. officials expressed belief that the pocket's northern approach is likely to fall soon.

Croatian Serb gunmen, manning batteries in nearby Croatian Serb territory and inside Bosnia, hit Muslim positions throughout Velika Kladusa, a besieged town at the far north of Bosnia, using artillery, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and tank cannons. Lacking heavy weapons, the Muslims fought back with small arms.

The warfare around Bihac came as President Clinton, addressing a meeting in Budapest of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged Bosnia's Serbs to settle their differences with the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo "at the negotiation table, not the battlefield."

"They don't want to talk, they want to kill," said a U.N. officer in the region who was monitoring the fighting from Croatian Serb territory. "What does the West think it can do, say "pretty please' and the bloodshed will stop?"

U.N. officials said the renewed fighting indicated Croatian Serb forces have decided to throw more armor at the remaining Muslim defenders in the northern section of the Bihac enclave to begin the process of connecting Croatian Serb territory to Bosnian Serb turf via the roads and rail link bisecting the enclave.

That would mark a decisive turn in the fighting around Bihac, which erupted when the Muslim 5th Corps burst out of the enclave a month ago and made their biggest gain since the war began 2 years ago. Bosnian and Croatian Serbs coordinated a counterattack on the enclave, swiftly regaining the lost territory and threatening the government-held enclave and the U.N. peacekeeping contingent stationed at its center.

Croatian Serbs now hold enough of the territory that they began the first steps in reinstalling Muslim renegade Fikret Abdic to power. Abdic, who led a rebellion against the Sarajevo government for more than a year, made his first public appearance in Bosnia today since Muslim government troops quelled his uprising in August.