Ignoring international condemnation and Western threats of retaliation, Bosnian Serb forces began an attack on another Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia on Friday, hours after they completed the “ethnic cleansing” of a nearby Muslim area overrun on Wednesday.
The target of the new attack was the town of Zepa, which has an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Muslims as well as 79 Ukrainian peacekeepers who were deployed to protect its status as a U.N.-designated “safe area.”
U.N. officials said that many of the Bosnian Serb troops on the attack Friday were fresh from their victory in nearby Srebrenica, which this week became the first of Bosnia’s six “safe areas” to fall to Serbian control.
The victors have expelled or detained an estimated 40,000 Muslims captured in the Srebrenica area, and refugees reaching Bosnian government-controlled territory have told of widespread killings and rapes.
Fears that this process was being repeated in Zepa rose Friday when the Serbs shelled three U.S. observation posts during the afternoon and advanced with tanks and infantry.
In response, NATO jets buzzed the Zepa enclave. But U.S. officials said that the small Ukrainian force had been told not to resist the Bosnian Serb advance unless directly attacked, and that with 450 Dutch peacekeepers from Srebrenica still under Bosnian Serb control, they doubted that the NATO airstrikes mounted against the Serbs in Srebrenica would be repeated in Zepa.
Fifty-five Dutch peacekeepers in the area have been taken captive by the Serbs since the assault began, including seven seized on Thursday night. The status of the remaining peacekeepers, who remain at their overrun U.N. base within the old “safe area,” remains unclear.
Embittered Bosnian government officials say that because the United Nations failed to provide the security it had promised, it is the United Nations’ responsibility to take care of those who were driven out of the enclave.