Fighting to break or ease the long Serbian encirclement of Sarajevo, Bosnian government forces pushed forward on several fronts Friday and threatened a number of roads crucial to separatist Serbian forces.
The attack, which began early Friday morning with a thundering wave of artillery and heavy machine-gun fire, involved thrusts outward from the city to the north and south. At the same time, government forces in Pazaric to the southwest and Visoko to the northwest pushed toward Sarajevo, whose encirclement by Serbian forces has lasted 38 months.
It was not clear whether the assault was aimed at smashing the Serbian siege or merely applying enough pressure to persuade the Serbs to relax their stranglehold and contemplate a political settlement. But the coordinated attack amounted to the most ambitious operation undertaken by the Muslim-led government forces since the war began in April 1992.
Blue-helmeted peacekeepers were reduced to the role of awkward bystanders as government forces seized tanks, field guns and mortars handed over last year to the United Nations and the Serbs used white United Nations tanks captured last month to pound the city.
It was a day when the disintegration of all international attempts to control or end the Bosnian war was manifest in the deserted streets of a once-animated capital, in the clatter and thud of guns and tanks, and in the contemptuous disregard for the United Nations presence.
Alexander Ivanko, a U.N. spokesman, said Bosnian infantry, clambering up Trebevic mountain south of the city, had cut the strategic road linking the Serbs’ stronghold of Pale, 10 miles southeast of Sarajevo, with an important Serbian barracks called Lukavica.
“Our reports suggest that government forces now hold a small stretch of the road,” he said.
The Bosnian Serb radio in Pale denied that the road had been cut but said it could not be used because it was too dangerous. Lukavica is an important Serbian gun position, with commanding views over the airport and the Government-held suburbs of Butmir and Hrasnica.
To the north, where the fighting erupted in the early morning, government forces pushed out from the city toward the Serbian-held suburb of Vogosca.
At the same time, some of the roughly 15,000 Bosnian troops who have massed near Visoko thrust eastward from Breza and appeared to have cut the Serb-held part of the road north to Olovo and Tuzla near the town of Srednje, U.N. observers said.
Fighting was also reported in Serbian-held Hadzici, to the west, where Bosnian troops appeared to have advanced from Tarcin and Pazaric, and in the western Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza.
Despite appeals for “the greatest restraint” from leaders of major industrialized nations meeting in Canada and for an immediate cease-fire from the senior U.N. official here, it appeared that the logic of war was irresistibly paramount among a Bosnian people weary of the ineffectual contortions of international diplomacy.
Western officials said casualties among soldiers appeared to be high, particularly north of Sarajevo, but no information was available from either army. With Bosnian infantry advancing into entrenched Serbian positions, it appeared that any territorial gains for the government would be paid for heavily in blood.