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Fierce Fighting Rages Before EC Convoy Reaches Besieged Town With AM-Yugoslavia

October 13, 1991

NUSTAR, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Grim despair marked the lieutenant’s sweaty face as he barked out his platoon’s roll call Sunday and scratched out the names of Tomislav Vinkovic and Adam Pavicic.

Both in their early 20s, Vinkovic and Pavicic were two of at least 10 Croatian militiamen killed in a vain attempt to punch through lines of Serb insurgents and federal soldiers who have besieged the Croatian town of Vukovar for 50 days.

The Croats’ dawn attack tried to clear a way into Vukovar for a European Community-led relief convoy of 50 ambulances, trucks and buses, which had been turned back three times in two days by fighting around this devastated front- line village. Despite the failed attack, the convoy finally got through late in the day.

Vukovar is a prize coveted by local Serbs as a capital for a new Serbian autonomous region. It has become a symbol of Croatia’s resistance to attacks by Serb militants and the Yugoslav army since the Croats declared independence 3 months ago.

″Vukovar is now a symbol of Croatian courage and defiance, because its defenders have shown almost superhuman strength and endurance,″ said Vera Stanic, a Croatian parliamentary deputy accompanying the convoy.

″How much more does the world want to see?″ she asked angrily.

The Croat infantrymen who made the dawn attack were supported by only a handful of armored cars and some special commando units. They made it only as far as Marinci, 1 1/2 miles down the road to Vukovar, before they were forced to retreat by heavily armed federal soldiers.

″We tried to get in, but the army was just too strong for us,″ said one militiaman, who identified himself only as Drazen, as his unit filed wearily into Nustar’s old manor farm, now serving as a field hospital.

As he spoke, an artillery duel raged ever closer to Nustar, once home to 3,000 villagers but now populated only by Croat militiamen and a few stray pigs and chickens.

Caught in the barrage was Michel Robert, the French leader of the European Community monitoring group that escorted the relief convoy to Vukovar. Angrily, he suggested the Croats cease their mortar fire: ″If you stop for 30 minutes, maybe they’ll stop, too, and we can go through.″

Drazen shrugged his shoulders. ″The problem is he should go over there and tell that to those guys - they fire constantly, they never stop,″ the militiaman said.

After receiving guarantees of safe passage from Croatian and federal officials, the convoy finally headed off into a no-man’s land of sun-bleached cornfields. With Red Cross flags flapping, Robert led the procession perched half out of his car’s open window.

As the trucks and ambulances disappeared eastward, the militiamen in Nustar loaded the bodies of Vinkovic and Pavicic into the trunk of a car, and it sped off, their military boots sticking out of the half-closed tailgate.

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