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30 Killed as Croatia Battles Rage Unabated

July 28, 1991|CHARLES T. POWERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia — Armed clashes in the breakaway republic of Croatia continued unabated Saturday, with authorities reporting an overnight death toll of about 30 despite pleas from the government to disband local militias to make way for a political settlement.

The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported fierce mortar and machine-gun battles in Glina, south of the republican capital of Zagreb, with Yugoslav federal army troops pounding back at separatist militia units. The Croatian units, in an assault on army positions, destroyed an army troop carrier.

A spokesman for the Croatian Defense Ministry said the federal army units used tanks to destroy a Croatian-held police station in Glina and drive the secessionist militia out of the town.

Most of the fighting in the area has taken place between armed Serbian and Croatian units, but the army has increasingly become involved and has begun to hit back strongly when its defensive positions come under attack.

There were still more battles between Croatian units and forces of the 600,000-strong Serbian minority, which occupies about a quarter of Croatian territory that it now calls Krajina and seeks to bring into the neighboring republic of Serbia.

For the second day running, there was fighting reported in the region at the Croatian town of Sibenik, and battles in Prekopa, Kozibrod, Kostojnica and Dvor na Uni, Tanjug said.

Yugoslavia's collective federal presidency met all day Friday, but it has been paralyzed so far in efforts to stop the bloodshed. In a statement issued after the meeting, the presidency had called for an immediate cease-fire, warning that the situation could "deteriorate into all-out war."

But it rejected appeals from Croatian leaders to order the federal army to pull back from Croatian borders and bridge crossings, saying that the army will return to its barracks only when paramilitary units in the region are disbanded and lay down their arms. There seemed little prospect of that happening soon.

Since fighting began in the region in the last two weeks, at least 70 people are believed to have been killed.

In addition, about 43,000 are now registered as refugees, most of them sent out of the Serbian-dominated regions to join relatives in other republics.

The international community, increasingly alarmed at the violence, has so far proved as powerless as the federal authorities in Belgrade.

The leaders, representing six republics and two provinces, are deadlocked amid a mass of ethnic grievances that date back decades or even centuries.

A group of officials from six countries met Saturday in the coastal resort city of Dubrovnik to lend support for a peaceful solution based on "self-determination" of all the peoples in the region.

The officials also applauded efforts by the European Community, whose ministers will meet in Brussels on Monday on the Yugoslav crisis.

The meeting in Dubrovnik included officials of Yugoslavia, Austria, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland.

It was the EC that helped halt fighting in Slovenia earlier this month after the republic, along with neighboring Croatia, declared independence on June 25.

Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis, attending the Dubrovnik meeting, said the EC might try to send another peace delegation to Croatia next week.

Croatian political leaders are hoping that an international peace mission may be able to help secure its road to independence in the same way it appears to have done in Slovenia. The federal government is taking steps that could lead to Slovenia's full independence.

Slovenia's government announced Friday that its police will take full control of the republic's border stations. Federal generals have agreed to withdraw fully from the republic within three months, and Slovenian recruits and army officers are to be discharged from the federal army by Aug. 15.

Croatian militia leaders have evidently decided to keep the military pressure on in an effort to force a solution. However, the situation is complicated by the militant Serbian groups, equally determined to split off the territory of Krajina from Croatian control.

The fighting between Croatian and Serbian militia units has been fiercer than ever in the last two days.

"It's sheer hell," a local photographer told the British news agency Reuters. "There are dead bodies everywhere."

Federal army officials reported removing a dozen bodies of Croatian and Serbian fighters along a road south of Zagreb after dawn Saturday.

Among those killed in Friday's violence was Egon Scotland, a photographer for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich, Germany. His car was reportedly attacked by Serbian gunmen near Glina.

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