July 21, 1995 in Nation/World

Bosnians Call For U.N. Air Strikes Muslim Leaders Refuse To Surrender Zepa While Croatia Threatens To Intervene

Associated Press

Surrounded by Bosnian Serbs in the U.N. “safe area” of Zepa, outgunned Muslim leaders refused to surrender Thursday. The fate of thousands of terrified civilians hung in the balance.

Government forces in Zepa responded to a Serb attack by shelling a U.N. peacekeepers’ compound, destroying a medical center and damaging barracks. The Bosnians had threatened to shoot at the peacekeepers if the United Nations didn’t call air strikes against the Serbs.

Serb leaders insisted that civilian men be held as prisoners of war, as they did last week after capturing the nearby “safe area” of Srebrenica.

Serbs on Thursday also attacked Bihac in the northwest, reportedly taking at least one town in the safe haven. The capture sent hundreds of people fleeing into the forest and drew threats from neighboring Croatia that it might intervene to save the Bosnian city.

In London, U.S. officials proposed ratcheting up pressure on the Serbs by threatening major NATO air assaults if they continued their rampage through “safe areas” with an assault on Gorazde, the last government-held enclave in eastern Bosnia after Zepa. France and Britain were close to agreeing to the plan, the White House said.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic spoke with President Clinton by telephone, bemoaning a “lack of U.S. leadership,” according to the state-run BH press agency.

Clinton responded that Washington “will do what we said we will do,” apparently referring to proposals for air strikes against Serb positions, BH reported.

Bosnia’s government on Thursday disputed Serb claims that Zepa had fallen. While there were reports that Serb forces had entered some of the 20 hamlets in the Zepa enclave, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard in New York insisted they had not captured Zepa proper. He cited reports from peacekeepers in Zepa.

The Bosnian Serb military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, demanded that government authorities surrender the entire mountainous enclave by 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT). The government refused because the Serbs planned to detain all men between 18 and 55 and exchange them for Serb prisoners, said Maj. Myriam Sochacki, a U.N. spokeswoman in Sarajevo.

As the deadline expired, Bosnian Serb forces unleashed a brief barrage of heavy weapons fire into Zepa.

Outgunned government forces responded by briefly firing on the peacekeepers’ compound in Zepa, almost completely destroying a medical center and pharmacy and badly damaging barracks, Sochacki said, adding, “There is no medicine left.” No peacekeepers were hurt, and the United Nations protested the attack, she said.

Despite the government’s tough stand, it was clear that Zepa’s civilians were preparing to give up. Serb television showed footage of Muslim civilians waving a white flag and sealing their surrender with cigarettes and wine.

The Serbs drove 60 buses to Zepa and planned to evict women, children and the elderly to government-held towns in central Bosnia. There are an estimated 10,000 to 16,000 people in Zepa, although the Serbs claim there are only 7,000.

A small U.N. liaison team arrived in Zepa for talks with Mladic and local government officials on the evictions and to evacuate 35 wounded people to Sarajevo. However, Bosnian government representatives did not show up at a U.N. checkpoint as planned to take part in the discussions.

© Copyright 1995 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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