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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Croats Mass Near Dubrovnik

SARAJEVO -- Croatia massed troops around the historic Adriatic port city of Dubrovnik on Wednesday for a showdown with Bosnian Serbs, while U.S. envoys briefed warring leaders in ex-Yugoslavia on a new peace plan.

"The Croatian army is concentrating troops and equipment in the Dubrovnik area for a possible offensive on Trebinje to push Bosnian Serb artillery out of range of Dubrovnik," said UN peacekeeping spokesman Chris Gunness.

Dubrovnik's old Venetian walls and Renaissance-era facades were hit by hilltop gunners in a 1991 siege during Croatia's war for independence from Serbian-led federal Yugoslavia. The old town has not been directly targeted recently.

But its hinterland, including the airport, has been shelled with renewed frequency from Serb-held Trebinje in Bosnia 15 kilometers inland.

The increase in tension around Dubrovnik follows Croatia's rout of Serb rebels in its Krajina region 10 days ago, crushing the rebellion that erupted four years ago.

The Bosnian Serb army says any shelling of the Dubrovnik area has been a response to Croatian artillery and infantry assaults on the Trebinje region in Serb-held Bosnia.

Gunness said more than 2,000 Croatian combat troops had begun moving southward from the port of Zadar.

In fighting in west Bosnia, Croatian forces have broken through the defenses of the Serb-held town of Drvar and are on the verge of sweeping through it, the independent Serbian news agency Beta said Wednesday.

The capture of Drvar would deal the Serbs another serious blow after the fall of the rebel Krajina region.

The United Nations, kept far from the battlefield, could not confirm the Beta report.

Diplomats and UN officials expressed concern that a new war front could open up while U.S. envoys were touring the capitals of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia with a new peace plan.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke briefed Croatian President Franjo Tudjman on Wednesday and said the volatile situation required a "dramatic step forward."

"The American delegation outlined our views on the current crisis, stressing our belief ... that this situation requires a dramatic step forward," Holbrooke told reporters.

He plans several days of shuttle diplomacy, stopping in Belgrade on Thursday, then Sarajevo and then Zagreb again.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Mohamed Sacirbey met Holbrooke on Tuesday. He said if the Bosnian Serbs rejected the plan, Washington would "take over a new responsibility." He did not elaborate.

Asked if the United States would militarily help implement the latest plan, he replied that his talks with Holbrooke had "revolved around all options."

Washington has refused to send ground troops to ex-Yugoslavia.

U.S. officials have said that for the time being Bosnian Serb separatists would be locked out of the process until they showed signs that they want to make a deal.

But in Geneva, European Union mediator Carl Bildt, who was heading for Sarajevo to meet Bosnian government leaders, held talks with Momcilo Krajisnik, a senior Bosnian Serb leader.

Diplomats had no details of what was discussed in Geneva, but at the very least it appeared to be a back-door channel to the Bosnia Serb leadership during the new round of efforts to strike a peace deal.