BOSANSKI BROD, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Hundreds of Serb fighters cheered and danced in the streets to celebrate the fall of the last major Bosnian government stronghold in the north. They swigged liquor and fired their machine guns into the sky. “Bosanski Brod is ours now, the Croats and Muslims are gone forever,” 2nd Lt. Djordje Rogic said Thursday as he watched his men stuff six motorcycles into an army bus. A nearby courtyard separating three high-rise apartment buildings echoed with the shouts of Serb fighters on the floors above and the sound of doors being smashed in. Every so often, a soldier would emerge from the doorway carrying a huge bundle of clothing, a toaster or other household item. “This is not theft, these are the spoils of war that don’t belong to anybody anymore,” said Rogic, 40.
“I’m sure the owners would prefer the fighting troops to get these things rather than the scavengers who will take over the town when we leave.” He said Bosnian government forces had offered almost no resistance in the last two days before the city of 15,000 people fell Tuesday. Casualties in the final battle appeared to have been light on both sides, but at least 200 Serbs are believed to have died in the monthlong battle for control of the approaches to the town. Although damage to the town seemed limited, almost all nearby villages were destroyed. While Croat and Bosniak hamlets bore the scars of heavy bombardment, in the Serb suburb of Lijesce —held by government forces for two months before the fall of Bosanski Brod — every house had been torched.
More than 14,000 people have been killed in Bosnia-Herzegovina since Serbs rebelled against a February vote by the republic’s majority Bosniaks and Croats to secede from Serbia-dominated Yugoslavia. The Serbs have proclaimed their own Serbian Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina, possibly as a prelude to unity with Serbia.
Their victory in Bosanski Brod gives the Serbs virtually undisputed control over a wide swath of territory linking Serbia proper with territory they hold in Krajina, the western part of Bosnia. Bosnian government forces had tried to cut the land corridor that is vitally important to the rebels, who are almost completely dependent on supplies of food and fuel from Serbia.
Because of their overwhelming advantage in artillery, armor and aircraft left to them by the retreating Yugoslav army, the insurgents have been able to occupy about 70 percent of Bosnia in the past six months. A fierce artillery and tank attack on Monday and Tuesday appeared to have broken the spirit of the Bosnian government troops, a coalition of Croat and Muslim units. They streamed across a bridge linking the Bosnian town with Slavonski Brod, an industrial city on the Croatian side of the Sava river. Almost the entire population of Bosanski Brod joined in the exodus, leaving behind homes and hundreds of cars.
A dozen tanks of the rebel 2nd Armored Brigade rolled through the town on their way back to their base in the hills, loaded with booty collected in Bosanski Brod. Bicycles, motorcycles, chairs, blankets, and other items were strapped to the turrets and hulls ot the tanks and armored personnel carriers — named “Dragon, “Thumper” and “Civil War Taxi. Their crews described how they parked the tanks on a river embankment Wednesday and watched hapless government soldiers and their Croatian allies milling about in confusion several hundred yards away, desperately trying to escape to the other bank. “They were so pathetic we could not bring ourselves to waste ammunition on them,” said Goran Pavlakovic, commander of a Yugoslav-built T-84 battle tank.