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Life Under Fire In Slavonia

August 29, 1991

Undated (AP) _ By JULIJANA MOJSILOVIC Associated Press Writer

BOROVO SELO, Yugoslavia (AP) - The bullet slammed into a tree yards above our heads. We crouched lower in the patch of abandoned tomatoes.

″They must have seen us,″ said Nikola, the Serb guerrilla guiding a reporter through the deserted gardens of this village in Croatia’s disputed eastern Slavonia region. ″Bastards.″

The epithet referred to Croat snipers raining bullets from the neighboring hamlet of Borovo Naselje.

Physically, just 500 yards of no man’s land separates Serb-dominated Borovo Selo from the predominantly Croatian hamlet.

The villages are near the Danube River city of Borovo about 85 miles northwest of the federal capital Belgrade and 150 miles southeast of the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Psychologically, the two villages are divided by history, unhealed scars from World War II and months of fighting that threatens to change life in Slavonia forever.

The 500 yards have become one of the bloodiest front lines in the fighting in Croatia, whose 600,000 Serbs want no part of the Croats’ dream of independence.

Traditionally, Slavonia has been an area of ethnic mix: Orthodox Serbs, the Roman Catholic Croats, ethnic Hungarians, even Slovaks.

Despite the bitter memories from World War II, when hundreds of thousands of Serbs were slaughtered by Croatia’s Nazi puppet government, the groups intermingled, even intermarried.

In Borovo Selo, that peaceful coexistence ceased abruptly on May 2 when 12 Croatian policemen were brutally murdered in the village after a clash in which one Serb had died.

Borovo Selo and Borovo Naselje have battled daily ever since.

On Monday, as often now, Borovo Selo was cut off from Serbia, just the other side of the Danube. Fighting meant the ferry wasn’t working.

A handful of people waited in Vajska, on the Serbian side, to cross. As they did, heavy mortars could be heard thudding to earth and sporadic automatic fire rang out.

Residents, accustomed to the noise, paid little heed.

″This was from our (Serbian) side,″ said one man casually. ″You can easily tell by the sound. When it’s louder, it’s from our fighters, because they are nearer.″

″I remember sailing up and down the Danube in my boat,″ a Borovo Selo Serb then recalled, wistfully.

″It’ll be some time before you can do that again,″ replied his friend.

Eventually, a small wooden boat and its skipper, equipped with gun and beer, made what turned out to be a safe crossing.

Inside Borovo Selo, the traces of siege were everywhere. Tomatoes, corn and cabbage lay rotting.

″Usually these gardens are very well cared for, but now you can tell there are no women in the village,″ Nikola sighed.

About 10 men, without uniforms and carrying an assortment of guns, guarded the fringes of the village, vowing as everybody does in Croatia that they will defend their homes at all cost.

Milan Gojkovic, one of the defenders, is a Serb from Borovo Naselje. He and his Croat wife worked 10 years in Germany, and - like so many Yugoslavs abroad - eventually returned, putting their savings into a house.

A shell has now destroyed it.

The Croats ″ruined everything we had in our village,″ said Gojkovic.

The Serbs see their salvation in the federal army, which has by nearly all accounts sided with them in the war against Croatian secession.

About 10 tanks and army vehicles were stationed in front of the shcool in the center of Borovo Selo. Both the army and the Serb rebels are headquartered there, but Nikola, deputy leader of the village’s guerrilla defense, denies they work together.

″We have our command, and the army has its own,″ he said. ″They react only when they are attacked. We are not fighting together, but they know we are not going to fight them.″

Heavy mortar fire rang out from the Croats. In response, a tank trundled down Borovo Selo’s main street and fired two shots back.

Then, the shooting died down as aimlessly as it had started.

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