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Croat and Muslim-led Bosnian government forces fought fierce battles south of Travnik Tuesday after the Muslim troops won control of the strategic central Bosnian town.

Thousands of Croats fled the fighting, even seeking refuge with the Bosnian Serbs who have been battling both Bosnian Croats and Muslims, U.N. officials and media said.The hills south of Travnik toward the small town of Vitez rang with the sound of troops exchanging fire. Smoke rose from several villages, journalist Chris Stephen reported from Vitez.

British U.N. peacekeepers in the area could not confirm Croatian reports of hundreds of deaths in the battle for Travnik, and were unable either to evacuate wounded or dead or get medical supplies into the town.

Col. Alastair Duncan, commander of the British peacekeepers, said he believed the Bosnian government forces were making a push to secure a supply route for their troops.

Stephen reported scores of bedraggled Bosnian Croat troops and civilians moving toward Vitez from Novi Travnik, where the Croats abandoned a strategic crossroads.

Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban, in a letter to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and international mediators, charged that 350 Croats were held in Travnik "in some kind of camp, exposed to every torture, massacre and shooting."

"The Croatian population in that area is in danger of total destruction," the letter said.