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Federal Army Reaches Dubrovnik City Limits, Croatian Forces Withdraw

October 25, 1991

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Croatian defenders abandoned the old walled center of Dubrovnik on Friday as the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army pushed to within the city limits and then agreed to a cease-fire.

Fighting went on until early afternoon, with army troops encroaching from the west and the east, where they pushed to an area above the Hotel Belvedere, at the entrance to the historic Adriatic city, a Dalmatian newspaper reported. Navy boats were 100 feet from city walls offshore, Croatian officials said.

Dubrovnik city officials met army officers at Cavtat, 10 miles farther south, and the army then ordered its troops to cease fire at 5 p.m., Croatian TV said.

It said the army positions were inside greater Dubrovnik but outside the medieval walls that are the core of Dubrovnik, a tourist mecca and cultural center of 60,000 people.

The Slobodna Dalmacija daily, published in Split, said the army’s naval units were ordered to stop firing at 5.30 p.m., and the Croatian defense command followed suit shortly afterward.

In Trebinje, outside Dubrovnik, army Col. Savo Lukic indicated to the state news agency Tanjug the army would not enter the heart of the city.

A boat was permitted into port with food and medical aid for residents of the besieged city who have suffered food and water shortages for several days.

Croatian TV quoted the army as saying it would evacuate all people seeking safe passage from Dubrovnik on Saturday.

Defense officials in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, said earlier Friday that their forces in old Dubrovnik retreated to nearby Gruz harbor. The officials complained the army was violating an earlier truce agreed upon Thursday.

Defense officials in Dubrovnik told colleagues in Zagreb, ″People in Dubrovnik are embittered because they feel they are being left at the mercy of the army and they are left alone by the whole world.″

In Zagreb, Croats mourned the apparent loss of Dubrovnik, which has maintained its independence throughout centuries while the rest of Croatia was under the rule of Byzantine, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and German occupiers.

″It survived Napoleon ... it survived the Germans and it survived the Communists, and now the Yugoslav national army’s destroying the city, which was never destroyed in history,″ said Srdjan Matic, executive vice president of Zagreb’s small Jewish Community. ″From a strategic military point of view it has no value.″

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told a Zagreb news conference that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic promised him at a meeting in The Hague that he would urge the army to stop attacking Dubrovnik and lift the blockade.

He said Milosevic assured him he had no territorial expansion plans and that Serbia was interested only in protecting Croatia’s 600,000 ethnic Serbs.

But at European Community-sponsored peace talks in the Netherlands, Milosevic rejected the latest EC peace plan, which would demilitarize and give limited autonomy to Serbian ethnic regions within secessionist Croatia.

Croatia declared independence on June 25, but armed ethnic Serbs rebelled. With massive army support, they have captured about a third of the republic’s territory. More than 1,000 people have died in the civil war.

Tudjman wrote to President Bush and other world leaders asking them to take measures against the federal and Serbian leadership, Zagreb radio reported earlier Friday.

Fierce battles continued Friday in other parts of Croatia, particularly the eastern towns of Osijek and Vukovar, and in Karlovac and Sisak, south of Zagreb. One person was killed and 13 injured in Sisak, 25 miles southwest of Zagreb, Croatian defense officials said.

In other developments;

-Serbs in the central republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina formed their own parliament and said they would hold referendums next month on declaring independence from that republic.

-Police halted voting Friday at polling places in the south of Serbia and in Montenegro, where Muslims seek autonomy for the mountainous Sanjak region. Muslim leader Asim Ljajic said about 60 percent of the voters had already cast ballots and the vote would continue in secrecy.

-Tudjman declared that paramilitary units belonging to the extreme-right Croatian Party of Rights must either join the regular Croatian National Guard or be dissolved. It was unclear what influence he had over the extremists, however. Milosevic has said these paramilitary units threaten the Serb minority in Croatia.