Croat-Muslim Coalition Frays in Bosnia

FIGHTING intensified between Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia yesterday, splintering their civil war alliance against Serbs and undermining prospects for an international peace settlement.

Croat military and United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) spokesmen in the region reported fierce artillery and heavy machine gun duels as well as some hand-to-hand fighting in the ethnically split town of Gornji Vakuf and nearby communities, where former Muslim and Croat allies have begun fighting over shares of the territorial pie envisaged at the Geneva peace conference.

Croat-Muslim tension, long simmering in western and central Bosnia, flared into fighting last week after Geneva peace mediators designated much of the region for autonomous Croat rule despite its large Muslim minority. In some areas Muslims are even in the majority.

Political power in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which seceded from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia last March, would be devolved to 10 provinces loosely based on ethnic makeup under the plan.

The self-declared Bosnian Serb assembly was expected to vote today on whether to accept the UN peace plan.

But Muslims, Bosnia's largest community, have rebuffed the blueprint because they say it would saddle them with the least territory, bowing to Serb or Croat occupation of more than 80 percent of the republic.

The flashpoint of Croat-Muslim hostilities is Gornji Vakuf, a town sitting on a strategic supply route between the Croat-held southwest Herzegovina region, near the Adriatic Sea, and Bosnia's disputed center.

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