The leader of Bosnia's Serbs ordered an all-out attack on Muslim forces Friday that have made unprecedented advances against his troops.
Radovan Karadzic called on his forces near Bihac to "mount a drive to encircle, destroy and expel Muslim forces from the territories of Serb municipalities, using all permitted means," the Bosnian Serb news agency said.
The threat followed earlier warnings from the Bosnian Serb army that it would take revenge on Muslim civilians in Sarajevo and Bihac if Muslim-led government troops did not halt their offensive.
U.N. peacekeepers said the Bosnian government army had captured 77 square miles from Serb forces around the Bihac enclave in northwest Bosnia, forcing as many as 8,000 Serb civilians to flee.
The Bosnian Serbs, who have artillery within range of Bihac, accuse the Muslims of abusing the U.N.-declared "safe area" status to mount offensives. Karadzic demanded retaliation "regardless of the safe areas."
The Muslim gains around Bihac were unprecedented in a war in which they have been ground down by the Serbs' superiority in weapons and logistical support from former Yugoslavia.
"It's too early to tell if this is a turning point," said Thant Myint-U, a U.N. spokesman. "But if it continues for a couple more days, perhaps it could turn out to be one."
"The strategic balances are slowly tilting against the Bosnian Serb army," Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, commander of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia, told Sarajevo's Radio 99 on Friday.
The Serb army retains an edge in heavy weaponry but is thought to be hurting for fuel since its former patrons in Serbia cut off supplies. The Bosnian government has more soldiers and has been steadily acquiring more and better weapons thanks to large holes in the international arms embargo on all parties in former Yugoslavia.
Bosnian Serb Gen. Dragomir Milosevic said his troops would match Muslim attacks round-for-round with shelling of "selected targets" in Muslim quarters of Sarajevo.
U.N. officers said Bosnian Serbs risked NATO air strikes if they launched shelling attacks on Sarajevo and Bihac, both under U.N. protection as Muslim safe havens.
U.S. seeks end
to Bosnia embargo
UNITED NATIONS _ The United States proposed Friday that the Security Council lift its arms embargo against the Muslim-led government of Bosnia in six months, a move that would be aimed at forcing the Bosnian Serbs to sign on to a peace proposal.
The U.S. resolution, which is likely to be voted on next week and will likely be opposed by Britain, France and Russia, is an effort to force Bosnian Serb acceptance of a peace settlement that partitions Bosnia among warring factions and cuts the area under Bosnian Serb control from 70 to 49 percent.
The Serbs, who have staunchly resisted the proposal, would have six months to agree to it. If not, the resolution would allow the Bosnian government to be rearmed. If the U.N. measure fails, President Clinton has said he will confer with Congress on possible unilateral action.
In another move aimed at putting pressure on the Bosnian Serbs, the United Nations and NATO adopted a tougher stance on providing air cover for U.N. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.
The agreement gives NATO pilots more latitude in attacking ground forces that may be violating so-called exclusion zones in which heavy weapons are banned.