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Amid Combat, Croatia Marks Christmas Eve

December 25, 1991| From Associated Press

ZAGREB, Croatia — This breakaway nation endured shelling and combat on Christmas Eve, but dense fog cut the danger of air raids, and people in the traditionally Roman Catholic region tried to forget the Yugoslav civil war for a few festive hours.

In Zagreb, Croatia's capital, many residents ignored requests not to fire guns in holiday celebration, letting loose a fury of firecrackers and gunfire that authorities had warned would make it easier for snipers to strike.

Churches in Zagreb were packed for Christmas Eve Mass, moved forward from midnight to 8 p.m. Soldiers prepared for Masses in bomb shelters.

In the 6-month-old civil war, at least 2,000 people have died and more than 500,000 have been made homeless. Croatia declared its independence June 25.

Serbian paramilitary and Serbian-led federal forces have seized control of an estimated one-third of Croatian territory.

Fighting Tuesday was reported particularly fierce in the embattled east Croatian region of Slavonia and its center of Osijek, home to 140,000 people in peacetime.

Two Croatian recruits were killed and several wounded when shelling hit Osijek as they were leaving their swearing-in ceremony, defense officials said. They reported that one civilian also died in daylong sporadic shelling.

Elsewhere, Croatian Radio quoted the Croatian mayor of the Adriatic port of Zadar and the Serbian commander of the Knin garrison, Gen. Milan Vukovic, as saying that 10 Croats were killed Sunday night or early Monday by unidentified men in Gruska, a village between Zadar and Knin.

It was the latest of several unconfirmed reports of massacres of unarmed civilians.

Shelling and gunfire were clearly heard through the fog that enveloped Zagreb and much of Croatia on Tuesday.

But before the fog socked in the Zagreb airport, an aircraft carrying humanitarian aid from the United States was able to land. The relief goods had been collected by the AmeriCares organization.

Croatian Radio reported heavy shelling of Nustar and Vinkovci, south of Osijek. Belgrade Radio said five Yugoslav army soldiers died in an attack by Croatian forces on Nustar.

Despite the violence, soldiers and the few civilians remaining in Nustar and other towns hoisted Christmas trees where they could. A large tree downed by artillery fire remained at the edge of Nustar and was decorated with ornaments salvaged from destroyed homes, AP photographer Greg Marinovich said.

Cardinal Franjo Kuharic called on Croats worldwide for help and urged those at home to wish "peace to each nation and to all people."

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