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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Recover Land Lost in Bosnian Push

SARAJEVO -- The Bosnian Serbs have eaten back into territory lost to government and Croat troops last month, the United Nations said Monday, as U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke arrived in Sarajevo to press for a cease-fire.

UN spokesman Chris Gunness said Bosnian Serbs had launched a counter-offensive and were making significant battlefield gains in northwest Bosnia and recovering lost ground from the Bosnian government army in at least two areas.

He told reporters the lines were two kilometers from government-held Otoka, a town on the Una River. This was half way between the major Bosnian town of Bosanska Krupa and the Serb-held town Bosanski Novi, the aim of the government offensive over the past week.

Gunness' account confirmed Bosnian Serb Army claims to have retaken lost ground around the town of Bosanski Novi.

Bosnian government and Croat troops, supported by Croatian army regulars, last month took more than 4,000 square kilometers of Serb-held territory in northwest Bosnia in a stunning offensive which brought them close to Banja Luka.

Meanwhile, Holbrooke, who flew in from Bulgaria, said he would be meeting Bosnian government leaders and UN Bosnia commander General Rupert Smith in Sarajevo and then leave for Croatia.

"We are right where we were last time we saw you. We're not making progress, we're not losing ground. We're in the middle of a very intense discussion," he told reporters on arrival.

"It is certainly true that a cease-fire is one of the main topics. All sides want it but there's a significant difference between them at this point."

The mediator was hoping to secure a truce among the Bosnian rivals to pave way for an international conference to end the 41-month old war which has left 200,000 people dead or missing and displaced millions of people from their homes.

But Holbrooke was facing unease in Sarajevo that he was trying to paper over fundamental differences long enough to remove Bosnia as a campaign issue that could be used against U.S. President Bill Clinton next year.

"Holbrooke is being heavily pressed to remove this burden from around Clinton's neck," one government official said.

An editorial in Sarajevo's main daily, Oslobodjenje, noted on Monday:

"The real range of the American peace initiative, despite its qualities, is more limited than optimists expected ... maybe even more limited than pessimists estimated."

Nevertheless, Holbrooke's initiative to end the war has so far been more successful than any of countless previous plans.

Last week in New York, the foreign ministers of Bosnia, Croatia and Serb-led Yugoslavia agreed on a general power-sharing formula for post-war Bosnia.

But the principles could return Bosnia to the ethnic-based political paralysis that preceded the war.

And tougher issues such as the exact division of land remain to be tackled.