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Serbs take key town in northern Bosnia

The strategic northern Bosnian city of Bosanski Brod burned Wednesday, captured by Serb fighters who widened their offensive with intensified shelling throughout the region.

The conquest of Bosanski Brod and destruction of the last Bosnian bridge across the Sava River into Croatia leaves the few Muslim and Croatian defenders of the city with no escape route or channel for reinforcements.

About 5,000 civilians and fighters fled across the bridge to relative safety in neighboring Croatia before the span was blown up early Wednesday, media reports said.

Bosanski Brod stood in the way of Serbian access to the remote Krajina area, which was seized from Croatia last year and declared an autonomous Serbian region.

Hundreds of Croatian and Muslim fighters were killed in the final operation to take Bosanski Brod, the Bosnian Serbs said.

Officials in Slavonski Brod said small-arms fire and the boom of artillery continued to sound from neighboring Bosanski Brod late Wednesday.

They said Serb troops apparently were moving from house to house, firing machine gun bursts inside and throwing in hand grenades to clean up any pockets of resistance.

After taking Bosanski Brod, the Serb rebels stepped up their offensives elsewhere in the nearly defeated republic. As Serbian forces pounded the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo with artillery, Sarajevo Radio described the assault as "one of the most hellish mornings since the beginning of the war."

Bosnian Serbs opposed to the republic's declared independence, with aid from their heavily armed patrons in Serbia, now control about 70 percent of the territory of what was Bosnia-Herzegovina.

More than 24,000 people have been killed since the Yugoslav federation began its chaotic breakup more than a year ago.

Details on war crimes panel vague: U.S. officials were vague Wednesday on how or whether a war crimes commission to investigate atrocities in Bosnia might actually prosecute violators.

A U.N. Security Council resolution approved Tuesday created the commission, but it did not recommend prosecuting people accused of the crimes.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, asked the value of probing allegations if there is no mechanism to bring violators to justice, said: "At this point we think it's premature to try to address (enforcement)."

He did not explain how those charged with committing atrocities might be taken into custody and what country or agency might take responsibility for that task.

"No-fly zone' measure drafted: The United States, Britain and France have agreed on a draft resolution to ban warplanes from the skies over Bosnia that relies on U.N. personnel to monitor airfields, diplomats said Wednesday.

Reflecting European hesitation, the draft resolution does not permit the use of force to enforce the "no-fly zone." The plan must be approved by the full 15-nation Security Council; no date for a vote has been set.

_ Information from the Los Angeles Times, Reuters and Associated Press was used in this report.

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