Government troops and the forces of a renegade Muslim warlord battled Saturday for control of Bosnia’s northwestern Bihac enclave, ignoring a U.N. call for an immediate cease-fire.
The fighting began at dawn when the rebels apparently launched an offensive to reclaim territory the government captured recently. A U.N. spokesman, Maj. Herve Gourmelon, reported intense small-arms fire and more than 400 explosions.
Muslim-led government troops are concentrated in the southern part of the enclave, around the town of Bihac. Soldiers led by Fikret Abdic, the rebel Muslim leader, control the northern part around Velika Kladusa, a town 25 miles north of Bihac near the Croatian border.
The U.N. Security Council on Friday demanded an immediate cease-fire in the region and condemned Abdic’s obstruction of aid convoys.
The mostly Muslim, governmentheld territory depends on the United Nations for food but Abdic has repeatedly refused to let convoys through, most recently on Friday. The Bihac pocket is surrounded by Serb-held territory.
Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, accused Abdic’s forces of “playing their old game of harassment and delay” and cancelled plans for a delivery Saturday.
Two aid convoys reached the southern part of the pocket earlier in the week, but aid officials say regular access is needed to stave off starvation.
Persistent fighting in Bihac has hampered efforts to secure a truce that took effect Jan. 1. Bosnian Serbs besieging the enclave have military support from rebel Serbs in neighboring Croatia who control territory on Bosnia’s northwestern border.