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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN: Croat Serbs Fail to Pull Back From Bihac

COMBINED REPORTS


SARAJEVO -- Rebel Croatian Serbs on Monday were not living up to their promise to pull back from the northwest Bihac enclave in response to a Croat offensive against their positions in southwest Bosnia, the United Nations said.


Bosnian Croat forces, helped by up to 10,000 Croatian army regulars, seized the towns of Grahovo and Glamoc in southwest Bosnia on Friday, severing the main supply road to the Serb stronghold of Knin in Croatia, and then pushed on toward Knin itself.


They continued to threaten the town Monday, according to UN sources.


Croat forces were "exerting pressure west toward Knin, with massive artillery and mortar shelling of [Krajina] border villages around Strmici," UN spokesman Chris Vernon said.


Formally, Croatian involvement is meant to help Bosnian government defenders in Bihac, which is under attack from Croatian Serbs. But Croatia is actually using the incursion to move closer, through Bosnia, to key positions held by rebel Serbs in Croatia near the border to force them to relinquish aspirations for the establishment of a separate state.


On Saturday, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman issued an ultimatum to the Croatian Serbs to get out of Bihac and accept talks leading to immediate steps on "peaceful reintegration" or face a blitz from all directions.


They responded with an agreement with UN special envoy Yasushi Akashi on Sunday, in which they pledged to pull their forces out of Bihac.


However, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping battalion in the Bihac pocket said there were no signs of a general withdrawal, and Serb artillery and tanks that powered advances almost to the heart of the pocket had not budged.


"We have found no significant withdrawal and certainly no withdrawal of heavy weapons or equipment," said Major Ole Reith, a Danish officer in the battalion.


"A maximum 500 soldiers out of several thousand that originally came in have left. This could just be redeployment, or even rotation," he said.


The apparent Serb failure to comply with the deal prompted fears among UN sources that Serb agreement had been a ploy to buy time for fortifying Knin and its hinterland while the UN leaned on Zagreb to show restraint.


The deal with the Serbs, which at first glance seemed to be a major concession by the Krajina Serbs acknowledging that their five-year-old insurgency against Croatian government rule was in jeopardy, was in any case rejected by the Croatian government side.


Warfare in the former Yugoslavia began in 1991 in Slovenia and spread quickly to Croatia between Croats and the Serb minority, who seized control of about a third of Croatia -- southwest Krajina and eastern Slavonia. A truce within Croatia largely held from early 1992 until last May when Croats retook part of Slavonia.


The Croatian thrust into Bosnia has threatened the Serbs. They appealed to the Serbian-led government of rump Yugoslavia in Belgrade for help, who responded with only a warning that the fighting could lead to a wider war and called for "energetic international political action" to halt the Croat advance. ()