Serb `Cleansing' of Eastern Bosnia Nearly Complete as Their Leader Negotiates at United Nations, Troops Are Said to Tighten Noose on Srebrenica

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AS Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic talks peace at the United Nations, his forces are attempting to drive the last Muslims from what was for more than a century Bosnia-Herzegovina's mostly Muslim northeastern flank.

Not even the presence of the UN commander for Bosnia, French Gen. Philippe Morillon, in the besieged enclave of Srebrenica and the attention he has focused on the plight of its 60,000 war-weary people have deterred the Bosnian Serbs.

UN officials reported yesterday that during the preceding 24 hours, Mr. Karadzic's forces had advanced closer to the town, overrunning Muslim villages nestled in the mountains along the Drina River border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

"The noose around Srebrenica has been tightened considerably," a UN official said. "There has been a big Serbian advance."

The fall of Srebrenica would be the final blow of a Serbian offensive launched last month to complete the "ethnic cleansing" of eastern Bosnia that began at the start of the war almost a year ago.

Under the pretext of avenging a purported massacre of Serbian soldiers, Karadzic's forces took aim at the last Muslim pockets, first overrunning the village of Cerska. Early this week, they conquered nearby Konjevic Polje.

The UN Security Council confirmed that during the operation, Serb commanders defied the UN "no fly" zone over Bosnia, sending aircraft on bombing raids against Muslim positions.

Refugees from Cerska and Konjevic Polje, including women, children, and the wounded, fled to Srebrenica through snow-bound mountains.

"People were able to reach Srebrenica. But they have now reached the end of the line," says Laurens Jolles, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official who visited Srebrenica last week. "There is nowhere else for them to go."

General Morillon, fearing huge numbers of civilian deaths, established his headquarters in Srebrenica last weekend in a bid to deter an inevitable Serbian attack that many observers anticipate.

The Bosnian Serbs' intention to complete the onslaught has been underscored by their refusal to allow through a UN convoy carrying 140 metric tons of food and medicine destined for the town.

Bosnia's Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey said yesterday Serb bombers had conducted a raid on the outskirts of Srebernica late Wednesday. Land access needed

Nightly airdrops of relief supplies from the United States have been helpful, UN officials say, but mass starvation in Srebrenica can only be averted by land convoys. …