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Croatian Hamlets Suffer from One of Civil War’s Lesser-Known Fronts With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

October 15, 1991

KARLOVAC, Yugoslavia (AP) _ When armed men came to the hamlets along the Kupa River, one of the lesser- known fronts of Yugoslavia’s civil war, it was the civilians who suffered.

Fighting in the Karlovac region has left dozens of villagers dead in an overall conflict that has cost more than 1,000 lives since Croatia announced secession on June 25.

Serb extremists consider the Kupa the new boundary of a Greater Serbia and a weak Croatia.

Croatian villages to the south and east that existed peacefully next to Serb-controlled areas until war came to them 10 days ago have been ravaged by the fighting.

Scores of Croatian refugees gathered Monday in a grassy open space in this small town 24 miles south of Zagreb to decide where next to go.

Doctors and Croatian troops grimly collected and identified the dead left along the roadside by the Serb-dominated federal army.

Doctors at the main hospital said 18 victims, mostly civilians from the villages, had already been buried. The bodies of at least six more were at the morgue pending identification.

″We don’t have anywhere to put them, so we have to put them here until relatives can identify them,″ pathologist Boris Lovric said, gesturing toward a refigerator truck.

The truck, parked in back of the morgue next to a cornfield on the edge of the hospital grounds, held three bodies.

Nada Ribar, from the village of Banska Selnica, is recovering from her wounds. She said the first indication of trouble was when residents from neighboring towns fled to her village.

″Before they (troops) arrived at our village, we just started running,″ she said Monday from her hospital bed.

Mrs. Ribar said she and her husband built a raft last Tuesday, floated across the Kupa and dug a trench. But that was only partially successful. She said she suffered leg and back injuries from a grenade fired from the other side of the river where her home is.

Mrs. Ribar said she never saw who attacked her village - the army or Serb rebels.

The fighting has been concentrated among Serbs living in Croatia, their hard-line allies in the army and Croatian forces. Ethnic Serbs in Croatia oppose the republic’s plans for independence.

A young man from Vukmanic, who arrived Monday in Karlovac, three miles to the northwest, recounted how armed men arrived in his town, demanded residents surrender their weapons, asked for money and then damaged the town.

The man, who refused to identify himself because he has relatives in Vukmanic, said the men wore uniforms of the Serb-controlled Krajina area of Croatia and seemed to know all about the town residents.

″They knew everything - who worked where, who was doing what,″ he said. That included that the young man belonged to the Croatian forces.

He went into hiding for a week, but said his father was beaten by troops who demanded he turn over his son’s weapons. He and a friend finally escaped Monday when they slipped into a car while the army was letting Vukmanic residents out. No one checked their identities.

Karlovac itself shows signs of the fighting that raged around the army barracks last weekend.

A burned-out jeep is upside-down on a major street, and a shell has ripped a hole in the roof of a downtown building.

Bullet holes pock the former military garrison headquarters and some hospital windows.

Dr. Zvonimir Bischov said 205 of the hospital’s 232 patients were injured in the fighting. Another 120 have been transferred to Zagreb, and several floors of the hospital are now unusable because their large glass windows are dangerous in time of fighting.

No one is allowed back into their villages. Instead, doctors said the army leaves the bodies it finds by the road and allows Croatian forces to bring them to the hospital.

″We’re expecting another load today,″ said Lovric, the pathologist.

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