Bosnian Serbs Deploy Along Supply Corridor

Military analysts fear the Serbs may launch an offensive to widen a vital link between Serbia and Serb-held territory in Bosnia and Croatia

THE the Bosnian Serb offensive on the eastern enclave of Gorazde having been scaled back under international pressure, a similar situation is now brewing near a Serb supply corridor in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina, United Nations and diplomatic officials warn.

Bosnian Serbs have moved an infantry and tank brigade into the Posavina corridor - a vital strip of land connecting a vast swath of territory controlled by Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia with Serbia. It is the only route for supplies from Serbia.

The Bosnian Serb brigades were sent to reinforce three brigades deployed in the area last week. They are the same forces withdrawn from a 12.5 mile exclusion zone imposed by NATO and the UN around Gorazde, Western diplomatic and international observer sources say.

Military analysts fear the Serb redeployment may be in preparation for an offensive aimed at widening the corridor. But Bosnian Serbs maintain they are concentrating their forces to defend against an imminent Croat-Muslim joint offensive aimed at cutting off the strategic link.

``We are very concerned,'' one senior UN official says. ``Serbs, Muslims, and Croats all have their sights set on the corridor.''

Passage divided

Bosnian Croat forces control a tiny pocket of territory in Orasje to the north of the corridor, and Muslim-led Bosnian forces control territory to the south from the Tuzla pocket. Just to the southeast is the Serb-controlled town of Brcko, where the thinnest part of the corridor - three miles wide - is situated.

``One hundred thousand enemy soldiers are poised for an offensive against the area between Doboj and Brcko,'' Bosnian Serb army spokesman Milovan Milutinovic said last week.

The Serbs' concerns echo those sent in a confidential memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Monitor, to the UN Security Council by Russian diplomats requesting that the UN look into the Serb claims. ``The Bosnian Serb command states that if the Muslim and Croatian plans are implemented, the area of Brcko and Orasje could become a very serious hotbed of the conflict, exceeding by its scale the conflict around Gorazde,'' the memo warns.

The Serbs' claims are similar to those they made prior to the assault on Gorazde in late March, when they amassed heavy weaponry around that city allegedly to defend themselves from planned Bosnian Army offensives.

``We have seen it time and time again. It's a continuous pattern of the Bosnian Serbs,'' one UN official says. ``When they start warning about Muslim offensives in certain areas, you can bet that is where they will launch their next attack from.''

Bosnian Serb forces claim regular Croatian Army troops have moved into Orasje on a large scale to reinforce Bosnian Croat troops in the north, and that Muslim-led Bosnian Army forces have redeployed in the Tuzla area.

International observers sent in to evaluate the Serb claims say they have found no evidence of such redeployments in Orasje. UN sources say there has been some redeployment of Bosnian Army troops to Tuzla, but not prior to the Serb claims.

UN military observers in northern Bosnia report that the Bosnian government has placed no restrictions on their freedom of movements, usually the first sign of a planned offensive. Free to roam, the monitors say they have come across nothing unusual. ``It may be on tomorrow's agenda,'' one military observer says, ``but it's not on today's.''

Struggle over corridor

The Bosnian Croat commander in Orasje does not rule out the possibility of attempting to cut off the corridor in the future, when the dust from the nascent Croat and Muslim truce settles and both armies gain enough weapons to take on the militarily superior Serbs. But now, he says, would not be prudent.

``Cutting off the corridor would likely be the final operation of this war, but to do so now would be tantamount to a declaration of war on Serbia,'' Ilija Vincetic, commander of Bosnian Croat forces in Orasje says.

``Now is not the time,'' he adds. ``We would suffer severe civilian and military losses. We may be able to hold it for a few days, but it would only be a matter of time before the Serbs could take it back again.''

Ironically, to preempt both long-term Croat and Muslim aims and the possible short-term goals of the Serbs to widen the corridor, the UN is considering making the area around Brcko a safe area.

To do so, however, would mean creating the first safe zone for Serbs and would freeze gains made by Serb aggression in an area that has seen some of the worst horrors of the Serb ``ethnic cleansing'' campaign.

Posavina was a region in northern Bosnia with large Croat and Muslim populations before the war, but as Bosnian Serbs swept through the area, they either killed or expelled all Muslims and Croats. The pocket of Orasje is the last bastion of Croat civilization in all of northern Bosnia.

An August 1992 United States committee on Foreign Relations report on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina cites testimony from witnesses in Brcko who say that up to 50 people per day were killed in detention camps in the city in May and June 1992.

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