Srebrenica Reported on Verge of Falling
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Serb militiamen closed in on Srebrenica today, and officials in the largest of the three remaining Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia tried to work out a surrender.
A spokesman for Bosnia’s Muslim-led government said Srebrenica officials were negotiating with Serbs to give up the town in return for the safe evacuation of Muslim civilians and troops.
Hundreds of people have been killed since early March when Bosnian Serbs stepped up attacks on Srebrenica, the scene of intense U.N. efforts to deliver supplies and rescue civilians.
″The most important thing is to avoid a massacre. The negotiations are taking place,″ said Kemal Muftic, a top aide of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.
Srebrenica is one of only three Muslim-held enclaves left in eastern Bosnia. Its loss would be a major blow to the Bosnian government’s morale, and put into question the fate of the other two enclaves, Zepa and Gorazde.
U.N. commander Gen. Philippe Morillon hastened today to the Bosnian Serb headquarters at Pale, southeast of Sarajevo, to try to save Srebrenica, which he made his headquarters last month in an attempt to highlight the plight of up to 60,000 people trapped there.
Belgrade radio quoted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic as saying the Serbs would not enter Srebrenica if the Muslim defenders surrendered their weapons to the United Nations.
″We are negotiating with U.N. Commander Morillon, asking that the Muslims surrender their weapons to the U.N. In that case, we will consider them civilians and we would not enter Srebrenica,″ the radio quoted Karadzic as saying.
The Serbs intensified their assault on Srebrenica on Monday even as NATO warplanes began enforcing a U.N-imposed no-fly zone over Bosnia.
Asked what the government’s reaction would be if U.N. officials worked out an agreement for a total evacuation of the town, Muftic said: ″Positive.″
Earlier, U.N. officials said they had assembled a 50-truck convoy to evacuate Muslims from Srebrenica. Tens of thousands of people have been trapped in the town by the Serb offensive to win control of all of eastern Bosnia.
Muftic made clear that Srebrenica would fall whether or not there was an evacuation, saying the town’s defenders were outgunned by Serb forces.
A U.N. peacekeeper spokesman, Cmdr. Barry Frewer, described the military situation in Srebrenica as ″deteriorating.″ He said the village of Banja Czerny, 1 1/2 miles southeast of Srebrenica, had fallen to the Serb forces, according to local commanders.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council announced it would hold an emergency session today at 3:30 p.m. EDT to discuss the crisis in Srebrenica.
A Western ambassador on the council, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it could consider tightening sanctions on Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic that has been accused of aiding Bosnian Serbs.
The Security Council has given the Bosnian Serbs until April 26 to sign a peace plan already accepted by Muslims and Croats. The Serbs reject the deal because it would deny them land links to Serbia and Serb-held areas of Croatia.
The plan would leave the Serbs with 43 percent of Bosnian territory. They have won control of about 70 percent of Bosnia since the civil war began a year ago after Muslims and Croats voted to secede from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
More than 134,000 people have been declared dead or missing and 2 million have been displaced by the fighting.
Muftic, who spoke to officials in Srebrenica at midday, said they reported heavy infantry attacks under way from three villages toward Srebrenica.
Ibrahim Becirevic, a spokesman for Srebrenica’s civilian authorities, said seven people were killed and 22 civilians wounded in the town early today and Serbs were shelling with howitzers and mortars.
The fiercest fighting was under way between the villages of Likari and Zalazje, north of Srebrenica, Becirevic said.
Elsewhere in Bosnia, fighting was reported today between Muslims and Croats, who have been uneasy allies against the Serbs.
Veso Vegar, a Croat military spokesman in Mostar, said 10 Croat militiamen were killed and many were wounded in an artillery attack by Bosnian government forces. He said the attack was aimed at a Croat barracks in Vitez, a central Bosnian town 35 miles northwest of Sarajevo.
Vegar also said Muslims and Croats skirmished for a third straight day around Konjic, a town about 25 miles southwest of Sarajevo that has largely been controlled by government forces.