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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Enter Zepa, Civilians in Flight

SARAJEVO -- Bosnian Serb forces rolled into the town of Zepa on Tuesday after more than a week of fighting in the UN "safe area" and women and children were fleeing into surrounding woods, the United Nations said.


"UNPROFOR [the UN Protection Force] confirms from a UN presence on the ground in Zepa that Bosnian government army troops no longer appear to be in the town," UN spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Chris Vernon said in Sarajevo.


"Bosnian Serb soldiers are moving through Zepa with impunity," he added.


The Bosnian government army, although confirming its soldiers had abandoned the town, said its troops were taking up positions in the nearby hills, Bosnian state radio reported.


"A large part of the free territory of Zepa has been preserved ... The fighters and people of Zepa are continuing their resistance," the army said in a statement.


Some 150 wounded people were evacuated from the town in Bosnian Serb vehicles, escorted by Ukrainian peacekeepers, said UN spokeswoman Captain Myriam Souchaki. They were heading for a Sarajevo hospital, she said.


About 17,000 Bosnian Moslems were believed to have been trapped in the town and its surrounding villages.


Neighboring Srebrenica fell to Serb forces exactly two weeks ago, leaving Gorazde as the last Bosnian-held "safe area" in eastern Bosnia.


The United States and allied Western governments warned the Bosnian Serbs last week that any attempt to move on Gorazde would be met with heavy NATO air strikes.


Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, who returned to Moscow on Tuesday after talks with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, expressed his opposition to Western calls for air strikes, exposing again the marked policy differences among the major powers toward the 39-month war.


Bosnian Serb "foreign minister" Aleksa Buha told BBC television that Serb forces would only launch an assault on Gorazde if attacked first by Bosnian government troops.


"Providing Bosnian Serbs are not attacked from Gorazde, we will not attack them. If they attack from Gorazde you can expect a Serb counterattack," Buha said.


NATO officials were meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to work out how to put the new tough words into action and debated the issue of speeding up the procedure for calling allied air strikes. meeting Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Zepa and to negotiate evacuation of civilians, a UN spokesman said.


A second UN convoy was headed to Zepa to pick up more wounded from the town, a UN source said. It was unclear if the injured were civilians or soldiers.


The Bosnian government must agree to any plan for the evacuation of civilians from Zepa or the principal UN aid agency will not participate, a UN official said Tuesday.


"Bosnian government approval for any evacuation plan is an absolute bottom-line condition or UNHCR would be party to ethnic cleansing," said a UN official who asked not to be named.


Fighting was also reported in the west of Bosnia on Tuesday.


Croat forces intent on cutting a Serb supply route launched heavy shelling attacks on Serb positions in the Glamoc area, Bosnian Serb military sources said.


In Zagreb, a Croatian official source confirmed the Croat assault and said it was intended to relieve pressure on the northwest Bosnian government enclave of Bihac invaded by rebel Croatian Serb forces a week ago.


Speaking of the general situation in Bosnia, Ivanko commented: "I think it's more unstable now than it was a week ago, especially with regard to the offensive in Bihac and continued military activity in Zepa."


The chief of Bosnian government forces at Bihac said Tuesday his troops were facing a fierce Serb offensive.


"I hope we will endure now, but it is quite difficult," General Atif Dudakovic told Croatian Television.


Serb advances in Bosnia have prompted new calls for the UN arms embargo on the country to be halted. The U.S. Senate was discussing legislation to unilaterally lift the ban Tuesday.