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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Encircled, Zepa Faces Ultimatum From Serbs


SARAJEVO -- The Bosnian government refused Thursday to surrender the eastern Moslem enclave of Zepa on terms outlined by the rebel Serbs who claimed to control it, a UN spokeswoman said.

"The Bosnians are not ready to surrender to the [Bosnian Serb army] terms,'' said Major Myriam Sochacki of the UN in Sarajevo.

She said Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic had set a deadline of 7 p.m. local time for the government to agree to his conditions and set in motion a mass evacuation of Zepa. The main stumbling block seemed to be the rebel Serb demand to treat all men from the age of 18 to 55 as prisoners of war, while allowing Moslem women and children to leave the beleaguered eastern enclave, home to more than 10,000 people, Sochacki said.

Bosnian Serb forces said Wednesday they had overrun the enclave, but this was disputed by both the United Nations and the Bosnian government Thursday.

UN officers reported that Bosnian Serb forces had surrounded the safe area but had not tried to overrun it. They said government troops in the mountain settlement still had their weapons, and a statement from the Bosnian presidency insisted that Bosnian forces were still defending Zepa, saying its defense lines were unchanged since last week.

However, both sides confirmed that talks on the evacuation of wounded people and civilians were taking place.

As confusion reigned over the precise status of Zepa, Western powers prepared to formulate their response to the growing threat to all the UN-designated safe areas in Bosnia. The attack on Zepa follows the fall of another eastern enclave, Srebrenica force in Bosnia were due to hold their talks, Perry said such an air campaign must not be prevented by any more Serb hostage-taking of UN peacekeeping troops.

Air strikes in May ended in a debacle after the Serbs took hostage nearly 400 UN peacekeepers.

"I understand how difficult the issue of hostage-taking is for those countries involved in it. But you cannot allow your policies to be taken hostage with your hostages," Perry said.

However Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said as he flew into London that he hoped Friday's conference would show that political, rather than military, efforts could solve the crisis.

"I hope the meeting will give a new impetus to political efforts, which are not exhausted by the international community, and will demonstrate that there is no military alternative to it -- to political effort," he said. Kozyrev is being accompanied by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev at the talks.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko also criticized the U.S. proposal for air strikes.

"I do not believe past use of air strikes resolved the situation. So people are frightened, so one site is bombed. Then what?" Udovenko said before leaving for the meeting. Ukrainian peacekeepers make up the contingent struggling to defend Zepa.

UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali echoed Kozyrev's comments with a plea for more intensive diplomatic efforts to end the three-year-old Bosnian war.

But soon after, a Serb shell slammed into the Bosnian presidency in Sarajevo as European Union peace envoy Carl Bildt was inside negotiating with President Alija Izetbegovic.

A second shell landed nearby. No casualties were reported.

In Washington, U.S. Senate Republican leader Bob Dole said he would try to accommodate U.S. President Bill Clinton's request to delay a vote on the arms embargo in Bosnia until after the allies' meeting in London.

Dole said he told Clinton during a lengthy telephone call late Wednesday that he would have to consult other senators. The Senate proposal would direct Clinton to break U.S. participation in the Bosnian arms embargo if UN forces withdraw or 12 weeks after Bosnia asks them to leave.

The Serb plan to remove Zepa's estimated 17,000 Moslems follows the mass exodus of over 30,000 Moslem refugees from Srebrenica after its capture last week.

"We once more condemn the Serbs for their callous policy of ethnic cleansing which is an affront to the values of all civilized people," UN spokesman Chris Gunness said in Zagreb.

Mladic told UN peacekeepers in Sarajevo that Zepa's wounded would be evacuated first, followed by women, children and the elderly, UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko said in Sarajevo.

UN officials were on their way to Zepa to monitor the evacuation in liaison with the Bosnian government and the Serbs, Ivanko said. A Red Cross convoy was also en route.

Sixty Serb buses arrived at a Ukrainian peacekeepers' observation post near Zepa to evacuate the civilians to central Bosnia. ()