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Slovenia, Croatia Declare Freedom From Yugoslavia : Balkans: Federal Parliament reacts angrily and orders the army to 'prevent the division' of the nation.

June 26, 1991|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia on Tuesday, delivering a death blow to the federation and to the 73-year struggle to unite the fractious Balkan nations.

The moves were in defiance of Western warnings that both states will face international isolation for unilaterally dissolving the union of southern Slavs created in 1918.

The federal Parliament in Belgrade reacted angrily, ordering the army "to undertake measures to prevent the division of Yugoslavia and changes in its borders."

But the lawmakers appeared to be overstepping their authority. The Yugoslav presidency is supposed to command the armed forces, but it collapsed five weeks ago because of an ethnic dispute.

Federal Prime Minister Ante Markovic made a last-ditch appeal for unity a day earlier, claiming that any secession could lead to civil war and economic chaos.

Of the two republics' declarations, Slovenia's was the more definitive and clearly amounted to secession from what Ljubljana officials now refer to as "the former Yugoslavia."

While the Croatian declaration was less specific, stating only that a process of "dissociation" had begun, it may prove to be the more inflammatory because of Croatia's 600,000-strong Serbian minority, which is staunchly opposed to separation from the Yugoslav nation that binds them with Serbia.

The nationalist leadership of Serbia, the largest of Yugoslavia's six republics, has threatened to use any force necessary to prevent division of the Serbian people.

Slovenia and Croatia had previously said they would secede on Wednesday, but the two governments summoned lawmakers to surprise nighttime sessions in an apparent attempt to stay ahead of any deterrence that federal or Serbian authorities might have planned.

Despite the immediate calls for military intervention, it is widely thought that any effort to deploy the multi-ethnic Yugoslav People's Army to quell a political dispute would result in mass desertion and failure.

Slovenia and Croatia had been preparing to break away for months, having failed to persuade other republics to restructure the alliance to give their more Westernized and prosperous states more autonomy and financial control.

In an unequivocal declaration of independence, Slovenian President Milan Kucan announced that the federal constitution no longer applies to Slovenia and that the newly independent state is assuming responsibility for all functions, ranging from defense to air traffic control.

However, Kucan sought to assure European neighbors and other foreign governments that the world's newest country poses no threat and will work to ease the current Balkan crisis.

"Resolution of Yugoslavia's problems is not without risks. But the greater risk is maintenance of the Yugoslav federation by force," Kucan told the assembled members of the Slovenian Parliament.

At least 24 people have been killed in ethnic violence in Yugoslavia since early May, and each of the ethnic groups--with the exception of most Slovenes--have been arming themselves in preparation for an all-out conflict.

Prime Minister Lojze Peterle promised that independent Slovenia will uphold all international agreements signed by Yugoslavia and that the new state will erect no barriers to the movement of goods, transport or people.

A five-article declaration of independence said that Slovenia's delegation to the federal Parliament in Belgrade is being recalled and replaced with a 12-member team charged with negotiating remaining issues with the other republics. Croatia said it is doing likewise.

According to the new legislation, Slovenia will gradually take control of all army property by the end of 1993, when the 20,000 federal soldiers now deployed on republic territory are expected to leave.

The territorial defense chief also has said that the 4,000 Slovenian recruits serving in the federal army will be recalled.

Slovenia insists that it will be better able to protect human rights and ensure compliance with international accords if it secedes, rather than remaining bound to a federation paralyzed by political and ethnic turmoil.

Federal authority has virtually collapsed in recent months. Serbia and its Communist ally Montenegro have refused to endorse a Croat as head of state, leaving Yugoslavia leaderless and without an army commander in chief at a time of razor-sharp tensions.

The federal prime minister repeatedly appealed for unity and won significant backing from the U.S. and other foreign governments. But as an unelected holdover from the discredited Communist era, Markovic, although a committed free-market reformer, commands little respect in the strongly nationalist republics.

In the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Parliament Speaker Zarko Domjan said, "Croatia no longer remains within federative Yugoslavia."

The declaration of sovereignty approved by the deputies in Zagreb said, "By this act, the Republic of Croatia initiates the process of disassociation from the other republics."

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