The Bosnian government claimed it had halted an offensive near this Serb stronghold on Saturday amid reports that Serbia’s powerful president had threatened to send in troops.
Battered by territorial losses and struggling to cope with a flood of hopeless refugees, Bosnian Serb leaders debated whether they should stick by or abandon a nationwide truce that began Thursday.
In Sarajevo, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, met with government and military leaders to review NATO plans to send troops, including 25,000 Americans, to police any peace settlement.
The U.S.-brokered truce has quieted fighting throughout Bosnia except in the hotly contested northwest, where the Serbs have suffered substantial losses.
Muslim-led government and allied Croat troops have advanced on the Serbs’ most vital city of Banja Luka and the nearby town of Prijedor. The fall of Banja Luka would be tantamount to total defeat for the Bosnian Serbs, and direct attacks on it would almost certainly lead to Yugoslav army intervention.
Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said the fighting subsided Saturday because Serbs “are slowing their attacks down.” The Serb military claimed the government was still attacking west of Banja Luka.
U.N. observers arrived on the Serb side of the front line at the invitation of Serb leaders, who demanded the world determine who breached the truce.
U.N. officials have said they could not judge the level of fighting nor who initiated it because they were barred from the area.
U.N. spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Vernon warned the government that if it did not allow similar inspections on its side, “people will conclude that you are not adhering to the cease-fire.”
In Banja Luka, Serb leaders discussed whether to stick with the U.S.-led peace process. They had reluctantly signed up for talks at the behest of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, but also would depend on his troops to hit back with any real force on the battlefield.
“Our enemies do not respect the cease-fire,” said Momcilo Krajisnik, a Serb leader. “We find ourselves in the position to either have the peace process collapse, or to make it crystal clear that we shall not accept such a false cease-fire and such an approving attitude of the international community toward the Muslim and Croat behavior.”
In Sarajevo, Shalikashvili said that “any fighting is a serious threat to the cease-fire.” He added that NATO airstrikes so far used only against the Serbs - remained an option to stop attacks.
At U.N.-mediated talks in Sarajevo in conjunction with the cease-fire, the warring sides agreed to provide maps by Sunday night of the confrontation lines, U.N. officials said. That could be a first step toward disengagement.