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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 14 OCT 1995 21:58:19 GMT

    Forces of the Bosnian federation advancing in Western Bosnia

    AT THE GATES OF BANJA LUKA

    - It is claimed that the leaders of Bosnian Serbs are constantly in telephone contact with Slobodan Milosevic, as well as that Nikola Koljevic has warned the President of Serbia that, should the offensive continue, in 36 hours he "may expect total collapse of the Republic of Srpska".

    - Military sources close to the General Headquarters of the Army of Yugoslavia claim that Yugoslav troops will by no means take an active part even if Banja Luka falls.

    AIM, Belgrade, October 13, 1995 After a quick and apparently unexpected fall of a significant part of North-Western Bosnia, joined Croat-Muslim forces continued advancing towards Banja Luka, but focused in the direction of Sanski Most, Prijedor and Mrkonjic Grad. After the initial confusion and a new crisis with refugees, towards the end of September and in the beginning of October, the army of Bosnian Serbs somehow managed to consolidate its ranks and even push back the joined Bosnian-Croat troops in some parts of the front, especially the Fifth (Bihac) Corps of the B&H Army.

    In the meantime, the American negotiator Richard Holbrook succeeded in imposing an agreement on a ceasefire with his "shuttle" diplomacy, though not without problems. But, while Holbrook was flying to and fro between Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb, it became quite clear that the roles in the Bosnian war have completely changed, more precisely, that the Bosnian Serbs were not capable of stipulating any conditions to anyone. Faced with a very difficult situation in Bosnian Krajina, judging by the statements made by the political leaders, they hurried to end the conflicts as soon as possible and thus get a breathing space they need so badly.

    Advancing over mount Manjaca

    Expecting long and tedious negotiations, the Bosnians on their part lingered and invented new conditions and problems concerning supply of electric power and gas to Sarajevo, trying to prolong for a few more days the obviously successful and decisive combat actions and enter bargaining for territories with the best possible stakes. All in all, the ceasefire was postponed from October 10 to October 12, and in the meantime, after furious fighting, troops of the Government in Sarajevo entered Mrkonjic Grad, Sanski Most, and are now at the entrance of Prijedor. And then, news arrived - forces of the federation are advancinging over mount Manjaca!

    After the fall of Mrkonjic Grad, Sanski Most, and maybe even Prijedor, forces of the Government in Sarajevo will obtain a strategic initiative for advancing towards Banja Luka, if the Bosnian Serbs do not manage to organize, for a change, succesful defence in several tactically essential points. By advancing over Manjaca, the B&H Army is acquiring a position from which it can threaten Banja Luka with its artillery directly and, without even engaging its infantry, complete neutralize the first Krajina corps of the Bosnian Serbs. After all, by taking Mrkonjic Grad, the B&H Army got hold of a very important road which leads directly to Banja Luka and it is now just 45 kilometres from it, or only 20 km by air from the centre of Bosnian Krajina (as a reminder - the maximum range of ORKAN rocket launchers is 55 thousand metres).

    The military and political leaders of the Republic of Srpska have in the meantime issued orders on a crucial defence of Banja Luka and Prijedor. Predrag Radic, mayor of the largest urban centre controlled by the Serbs, claims that Banja Luka will be defended like Stalingrad. Pursuant to the order on crucial defence, police hours were introduced, schools were closed, as well as all catering facilities, except the hotels.

    That the situation is very grave is illustrated by the information of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) about 40 thousand civilians who are fleeing from Sanski Most and Mrkonjic Grad in the direction of Prijedor and Banja Luka. Those who are well informed claim that Banja Luka is close to being panic-stricken, and that the police hours are primarily intended to prevent an outflow of the population during the night. UNHCR spokesman, Rod Redmond said that in case combats came closer to Prijedor, new movements of tens thousand people could be expected. He also stated that in that case, a new wave of ethnic cleansing of non-Serb population from the region could also be expected. Humanitarian workers on site reported in the meantime about mass forced evictions of the Croats and the Muslims.

    It is also claimed that the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs are constantly in telephone contact with Slobodan Milosevic, as well as that Nikola Koljevic warned the President of Serbia that, should the offensive continue for another 36 hours, he could "expect a total collapse of the Republic of Srpska".

    Where has the Serb army disappeared

    The local analysts draw a conclusion from the facts state above that this is not a matter of political games any more, nor of drawing maps, nor even of division of Bosnia. It is believed that after 42 months of fighting, the Bosnian Serbs are simply too weak to resist the strengthened opponents. The desperately bad internal political situation should be added to the phenomenon of their "weakness", especially because it has been undermined by Yugoslav secret services, shaken by the conflict between the soldiers and the politicians, panic-stricken after the fall of Krajina and, perhaps most of all, weakened by mass feeling of hopelessness.

    After waging war practically unarmed, thanks to the assistance of the Croat Army, Islam countries and to the fact that the international community closed its eyes to quite obvious violations of the arms embargo, the Bosnian Army has gained so much in strength that it can successfully oppose the technically superior Serb troops. At the same time, the Bosnian soldiers are adequately motivated with the slogan of defence and protection of a united Bosnia. Active presence of the Guards' brigades of the Croat Army are another important factor.

    On the other hand, after years of fighting with dubious motives, along with dirty and troubled business of killing civilians and ethnic cleansing, without a clear war objective and affected by the conflict with the mother country and the fall of Krajina, Serb troops have lost all motivation for further fighting. The system of donors who bought safe positions in the rear for money, stimulated ordinary people to leave for Serbia regardless of the consequences, or (if possible) outside the borders of Yugoslavia. General Ratko Mladic has from the very beginning of the war had problems with manpower. Namely, there were always even more than enough members of special units and quickly movable troops needed for conquering certain points. But, he always lacked ordinary soldiers who would sit at the frontline and guard the conquered positions. It has never been possible to achieve much solely with cannons and tanks.

    After NATO air-strikes and serious damage of the commanding, communication and logistic system, among other the army of Bosnian Serbs started suffering mistakes of commanding officers which were simply impossible to overcome. Ever since the moment Kupres fell, and then Grahovo and Glamoc, and when Croatia finally overrun Krajina, generals of this army made several key errors. Instead of relocating troops to most sensitive positions as fast as possible, they busied themselves with Sarajevo and needlessly kept large units in the Drina river valley. Then sketching of maps followed, in other words, the fall of Jajce, Kulen Vakuf and a few other towns.

    Milosevic is silent, and the border with Serbia - closed

    Only then did the Serb generals finally remember that the only thing that could stop advances of an army was - another army. They therefore hurriedly started strengthening their positions and bringing in enforcements, but - it was already too late. Noone was able to offer adequate motivation to the soldiers any more, since they had already been watching hundreds thousand refugees for two months already, and they were aware that their homes would also soon become targets of enemy attacks. On the other hand, logistics, warehouses and communication centres still do not operate. Sources on site claim that the "real-time chain of command" still has not been reestablished. The arrival of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan and some other special units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia has not helped improve the situation.

    Probably, the army of Bosnian Serbs and their state will somehow manage to keep its ground and avoid total catastrophe with the assistance of the until recently detested international community and that of Belgrade. The Bosnian Government at the same time demands opening of Gorazde and threatens that, should that fail to happen - there will be no ceasefire either. Karadzic is acting in a conciliatory manner and he claims that the road will be opened, if the Bosnian Army does not open it on its own in the meantime in an offensive over mt. Trnova and mt. Treskavica. A new tour of Richard Holbrook is expected in the next few days, concerning setting of the date and establishment of the agenda for the peace conference. Milosevic is silent, state television carries scanty agency news about combats, and at border crossings with the "Republic of Srpska" Serb police on both sides is sending back all those who intend to cross to Serbia.

    All things considered, the ceasefire which is more or less implemented in other parts of Bosnia, is by no means obeyed around Banja Luka. In a statement given to Belgrade Radio B92 on Friday, October 13, the Mayor of Banja Luka, Predrag Radic said that some of the local communities in the outskirts of Banja Luka municipality were already in the hands of Croat units, and that detachments of volunteers were formed in the city. There were several tens thousand refugees in the streets. Food is gradually becoming scarce.

    Vasilije Stefanovic