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`KRAJINA EXPRESS' ENHANCES SERB FIREPOWER NEAR BIHAC

Published: Sunday, Dec. 4 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

Draped in rubber armor, bristling with guns, the "Krajina Express" must be one of the Serbs' oddest weapons in the Bosnian war. All aboard - if you dare.

The train, similar to those employed in both world wars, has three combat cars and three freight cars hooked to the front to protect it from mine blasts. It chugs to the front line, aims and fires and then quickly retreats.But on Tuesday, the train took a direct hit from a missile fired by Bosnian government defenders of Bihac, the U.N.-designated "safe area" in northwest Bosnia.

The 20-man crew survived and the damage was minor, since a thick rubber curtain absorbed most of the blast. The car was loaded with ammunition and the train could have exploded.

"We were lucky," said Djuro, whose shrapnel wound to the leg was the only injury.

A hundred yards long, roofless and loaded with guns, the "Krajina Express" - named for the Krajina region of neighboring Croatia - is an example of the firepower Serbs are throwing at defenders of Bihac.

The United Nations says Croatian Serbs have joined the fighting in the Bihac area, helping anti-government forces corner the Bosnian army's powerful 5th Corps.

Serb troops say they are determined to punish the 5th Corps for an October offensive that routed them out of the Bihac region. The Serbs counter-attacked in early November and now control 30 percent to 40 percent of the area.

"The 5th corps is in a desperate position and they will fight to the end," said Savo Bursac, who operates a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. "I don't expect them to surrender, and they have nowhere to go."

He said the train crew never would have gotten involved had the 5th Corps not attacked the Serbs in Bihac. "This is to teach them a lesson and to end the war."

Capt. Blagoje Guska, commander of the train, said it had been fired upon but never hit before the missile attack Tuesday.

The train usually draws no fire and crew members blamed overconfidence for getting hit. It rolled back quickly from the dangerous position south of Bihac.

"That was our fault," said Djuro, who declined to give his last name. "We went too close and stayed there exposed for too long."

The motor on a triple-barrel, anti-aircraft machine gun was destroyed.

Earlier, on its first of three runs that day, the train followed its standard procedure of appearing suddenly, firing its deadly barrage and quickly retreating.

Approaching from the south, it halted about two miles from Bihac and its guns joined the tank and howitzer fire on the region.

The first shells were fired by a self-propelled cannon, aimed at what was said to be Bosnian army trenches on a remote hill. Then, missiles that had been taken off of jet fighters and refitted to the train were unleashed.

On its third raid, another anti-tank missile fired at the train hit a house about 200 yards away, setting it ablaze. The house was empty and there were no casualties.

Runs toward the government line are interspersed with breaks back at the train's base about three miles from Bihac.

On one run back to the base, small trucks followed with hot soup and fresh bread for lunch. Morale was boosted by a short visit from Bosnian Serb army deputy commander Gen. Manojlo Milovanovic, who is directing the Bihac campaign.

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