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Bosnia's Muslim-led army inflicts major Serb defeat

The Muslim-led government has scored a major victory in the war it has waged against Bosnian Serbs since 1992.

The Serbs suffered a stunning defeat near Bihac in the northwest, and Bosnian troops were closing in Thursday on a Serb-held town on the front lines west of Sarajevo.

The Bosnian Serb army's chief of staff acknowledged the extent of the defeat near Bihac. In a letter to the U.N. peacekeepers, Lt. Gen. Manojlo Milovanovic demanded they "urgently put pressure on the Muslim side to stop the offensive, especially against civilians." The Serbs suffered "immense material damage and losses," Milovanovic said.

U.N. relief workers estimated that 7,500 Serb civilians _ mostly women, children and elderly people _ had fled advancing government forces in two areas: 2,500 from the Kupres area 55 miles west of Sarajevo and the rest from the Bihac enclave.

Relief workers were sending food and blankets to the displaced _ one of the largest groups of Serb refugees to flee at one time since the war began in April 1992.

During the first two years of the war, Serb forces took about two-thirds of Bosnia-Herzegovina; the Muslim-led government controlled the rest.

The heaviest government offensive centered around the Serb-held town of Kupres, where government army officials said they were closing in from the north and east. U.N. relief workers said Serb civilians were fleeing to safer areas.

In the attack outside Bihac, the government's most successful of the war, Bosnian army forces captured as much as 60 square miles of territory east and southeast of the town, said Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, a peacekeeper spokesman. "It is clear the Bosnian Serbs were caught totally off guard," he said. Serb troops "withdrew in disarray," leaving behind tanks and mortars.

Almost 5,000 Serbs in the Bihac area fled either west to a Serb-held part of Croatia or southeast to the Bosnian Serb town of Bosanski Petrovac, said U.N. and International Red Cross officials.

Bosnian Serbs didn't have time to destroy underground warehouses packed with weapons, equipment and ammunition, which were captured and immediately put into use, sources said.

"A huge turnabout seems to be happening," the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje said Thursday in an editorial accompanying front-page coverage of the victory.

Bosnian Muslims rout Serbs

Bihac: Muslim government forces capture territory to the east and southeast of the city, forcing 5,000 Serbs to flee.

Kupres: Bosnian army says high groud captured, some 2,500 Serb civilians flee.

Muslims bombard the narrow strip that is the Serbs only link between their eastern and western territories.