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Dubrovnik Airport Shelled; New Serb Artillery in U.N. Sector

April 13, 1995

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Shelling around the coastal resort city of Dubrovnik killed one person and left craters at the main airport Thursday, an apparent warning to tourists to stay away.

In eastern Croatia, Serb rebels appear to be building up heavy artillery in a U.N.-controlled sector, peacekeepers there said.

The attacks around Dubrovnik, on Croatia’s southern tip, coincided with Easter holidays, the start of the city’s tourist season. The origin of the shells was unclear.

A U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attacks may be a Serb terror tactic aimed at tourists who bring needed hard currency to Croatia. Serbs have guns within a few miles of the walled medieval city on the Adriatic Sea.

Residents are hoping for a good tourist season this year, four years after war broke out over Croatia’s secession from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Nearly 10,000 people were killed during six months of fighting in 1991 between Croats and rebel Serbs. U.N. peacekeepers have been monitoring a cease-fire that took effect in January 1992.

Observers have predicted Dubrovnik will be a flashpoint if U.N. peacekeepers withdraw or reduce their presence in Croatia.

Shells rained down on civilian areas northwest of Dubrovnik for about half an hour Thursday afternoon, said Lt. Col. Walt Natynczyk, a U.N. spokesman in Zagreb. He said one person was killed.

Civilian targets south of Dubrovnik also were hit, the Croatian defense ministry claimed.

Earlier, at least 12 shells rocked an airport eight miles south of Dubrovnik, said Chris Gunness, another U.N. spokesman in Zagreb. He said the runway and a nearby gasoline station were hit, causing a fire that burned for three hours.

It was the first attack on the airport _ a key Serb base during the war _ since the summer.

Croatia’s foreign minister, Mate Granic, protested in a letter to the U.N. Security Council, saying the army will ``take all necessary defense measures″ if the attacks continue, state television reported.

In January, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman ordered out 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers starting March 31.

Under international pressure _ and with an eye to tourism _ Tudjman rescinded that order. But he insisted any new U.N. mission must be smaller and control Croatia’s international borders to halt military traffic between Serbs in Croatia and those in Bosnia and Yugoslavia.

The rules of that new U.N. mission are still being debated, and the uncertainty has stirred tension in and around U.N.-patrolled sectors of Croatia.

On Thursday, the United Nations announced it had noted another six new artillery pieces in Serb-held eastern Croatia.

Natynczyk, the U.N. spokesman, said 26 Croatian Serb soldiers were manning the anti-aircraft artillery near Vukovar, a major battleground of the 1991 war.

The Russian U.N. commander in that area, Maj. Gen. Alexander Perelyakin, was fired on Tuesday amid allegations he had allowed Serb soldiers and artillery to cross into Croatia from neighboring Serbia.

He denied Thursday that he sided with rebel Serbs, insisting the accusations were designed to discredit Russian peacekeeping in the region.

Update hourly