ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian artillery and mobile infantry pressed rebel Serbs in Balkan fighting Saturday that mocked diplomats who were scrambling to head off a full-scale war between Croatia and Serb forces.
The United Nations said Croatian guns firing across the border from Bosnia-Herzegovina blasted the village of Cetina near Knin, the rebel capital in the Serb-administered Krajina region of Croatia. Other Croatian units were said to be pushing east into Serb-controlled areas of central Bosnia.
But the Serbs had the upper hand in northwestern Bosnia, where U.N. officials reported continued rebel artillery, tank and mortar fire against hard-pressed defenders in the Muslim enclave of Bihac.
Seeking to tamp the spiraling violence, Yasushi Akashi, the senior U.N. official in the former Yugoslav federation, appealed to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman on Saturday. "He urged restraint at a time of crisis," said U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness.
U.N. military observers noted with "extreme concern" a major buildup of Croatian forces inside Croatia to the west of Krajina, simultaneous with increased pressure from Croatian advances from within Bosnia.
Observers fear that Croatia may be poised for a full-scale invasion of Krajina. That would broaden Balkan bloodshed to proportions not seen since the collapse of the Yugoslav federation.
In Paris on Saturday, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister John Major agreed to revive efforts for peace talks between the warring sides in Bosnia.
"I think we have to look again at the desirability of getting the parties to the conflict talking," Major said after a two-hour lunch with Chirac in the Elysee Palace before going on holiday to the south of France.
"At the moment there has been a long period of silence between the parties," he told reporters.
But European Union peace negotiator Carl Bildt said Saturday that he sees no hope of a halt to the fighting in Bosnia in the near term and that a U.N. withdrawal cannot be ruled out.
"I don't think the different parties are ready for a cease-fire yet. They have decided to fight . . . the Bosnian government side and the Bosnian Serb side as well," he told a news conference in Sweden.
Akashi is scheduled to travel to Knin today for talks with Milan Martic, leader of the Krajina Serbs, who occupy about 20% of Croatian territory behind 1994 U.N.-patrolled cease-fire lines, which are now in jeopardy.
Martic, who was indicted for war crimes by a U.N. tribunal last week, has protested to the Security Council that Croats are committing atrocities against Serb civilians left homeless by the Croatian advances.
"Croatia's goal is to exterminate the Serb territories and create an ethnically pure Croatian state," Martic said.
In a letter faxed Saturday to the U.N. commander in the former Yugoslav republics, Gen. Bernard Janvier of France, Krajina Serb army commander Gen. Mile Mrksic said that his forces would "no longer tolerate Croatian provocations and would hold the peacekeeping troops and the international community responsible for the consequences of the Croatian attacks."
U.N. officials fear that 10,000 peacekeepers and U.N. officials in the disputed region could be taken hostage if fighting escalates.
Also Saturday, Bosnia's Serbs, reeling from battlefield losses to Croatia's army, appealed to the Yugoslav army to defend them in the name of ethnic ties--a move that could further spread the Balkans war.
Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, which has been presenting itself as a peacemaker in an attempt to have devastating U.N. sanctions lifted, called an emergency meeting of its top leaders. No details of the meeting were immediately available.
In May, rebel Serb forces responded to a Croatian attack by shelling the border town of Karlovac and hitting Zagreb, Croatia's capital, with half a dozen rockets. Some dependents of American Embassy officers left Zagreb on Saturday for Vienna at U.S. government instruction.
In new trauma for eastern Bosnia, meanwhile, Bosnian Serb forces have looted and burned the Muslim town of Zepa they captured in the past week, and claim to have executed the commander of local defense forces, U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said in Sarajevo on Saturday.
By Ivanko's account, Bosnian Serb army chief Gen. Ratko Mladic told a U.N. officer that Col. Avdo Palic had been killed after an impasse was reached in surrender negotiations. U.N. officials said they could not confirm the report, but Palic had not been seen since Thursday.
"We suppose it's true. We are quite sure he did not return from talks, so we are quite sure he is at least captured if not dead," said Amir Hadziomerajic, a Bosnian government liaison with the U.N. mission.
Palic was considered a hard-line military commander who had resisted surrendering to the Serbs. He clashed with Zepa's civilian leaders, most of whom were refugees and relative newcomers to the "safe area," who were more willing to go along with a Serb-coerced expulsion.