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Croatian Town Deserted, Fearful As Army Moves In With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

October 19, 1991

ILOK, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Boots, uniforms and overturned chairs littered the once-elegant bar Friday on the ground floor of a medieval castle overlooking this Croatian town.

Croatian troops had used it as a headquarters, and the chaos attested to the haste of their departure in the face of a Yugoslav army advance.

An estimated 4,000 of Ilok’s 7,000 people left with them Thursday after the federal army threatened to attack unless its defenders departed. Most of the civilians who left were Croats, fearful of their fate without armed protection. Ethnic Serbs and a scattering of other minorities stayed behind.

The refugees, 400 disarmed Croatian guard members and 50 policemen were allowed to pass through the federal lines.

Ilok’s position, on a spit of Croatian land sticking deep into Serbian territory, was deemed indefensible by military experts. The secessionist republic has already lost over a third of its territory to Serb rebels supported by the Serb-dominated federal army.

At least 1,000 people have died in the fighting after Croatia and its northern neighbor Slovenia declared independence June 25.

Ethnic Serbs, who make up 12.2 percent of Croatia’s 4.75 million people, want the territories they inhabit to remain part of Yugoslavia. They are supported by Serbia’s authoritarian president Slobodan Milosevic, whom the Croats accuse of pulling the strings in the Croatian war to expand Serbia’s territory.

Ilok, a charming hillside town in Croatia’s southeastern corner, is best known for its white wines. But the military police combing the vineyards lining a southern slope this week were searching for leftover mines.

Ilok’s winding streets were eerily deserted as a convoy of military police jeeps, accompanied by two tanks and an armored personnel carrier flying a huge Yugoslav flag, drove up to the castle.

Scattered groups of soldiers huddled inside doorways, their automatic rifles at the ready, scanning for possible snipers. Occasional shots could be heard from the western outskirts, where a group of 40 Croatian soldiers was reported to be hiding.

The distant crump of heavy artillery attested to the continued bombardment of the besieged Croatian town of Vukovar 20 miles away, the last remaining Croatian outpost on the Danube River boundary with Serbia.

Gradually, some of the townspeople started appearing. Several soldiers chatted with curious boys who ventured out of shuttered homes.

″We were not pressured to leave by the Croatian command and we have not had any problems with the Yugoslav army,″ said Ivica Benke, a Croat storekeeper who decided to remain behind.

He said that many of those who left were afraid of the ultranationalist Serb irregulars, who they feared might follow the army into the town. Benke added he was not worried.

The army planned to set up a military administration in Ilok until a new mayor and city council were elected. Military police would remain there as long as they were required, Col. Petar Grahovac said.

Despite the deep hatreds stoking Croatia’s war, one Serb was sorry to see the Croats go.

″Whose cars am I going to work on if they don’t come back?″ asked Serb car mechanic Boban Bukvic.

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