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10 Policemen Killed in Clashes Between Serbs and Croats

May 3, 1991

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbian militants and police battled in two Croatian villages Thursday, leaving at least 10 Croatian policemen dead, authorities said. It was the worst day of violence between the two groups in their escalating ethnic conflict.

″We are confronted with the beginning of an open war against the Republic of Croatia,″ Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said, in a dispatch carried by the state news agency Tanjug early Friday.

Tudjman said nine policemen were killed and three missing after clashes in and around the town of Borovo Selo, 80 miles northwest of Belgrade.

Another policeman was killed in western Croatia, at the town of Polaca.

Tudjman called on Croats to ″preserve common sense″ and said his 1-year- old government will ″raise a demand before the presidency of Yugoslavia and the (federal) army to openly declare themselves regarding the legitimacy and the legitimately elected administration in Croatia.″

Yugoslavia’s eight-man presidential council consists of representatives from each of six republics and two provinces. The presidency has met five times in the last several months to defuse Yugoslav’s building national crisis, but to little avail.

In addition to the ten officers, six people were wounded in the two towns, Tanjug quoted Milan Brezak, a senior Croatian Interior Ministry official, as saying late Thursday.

Before Tudjman’s report, Croatian television had given an unconfirmed report that 15 Croatian policemen and 20 civilians were killed in Borovo Selo.

In another incident, gunmen fired on the helicopter carrying the vice president of Croatia’s Parliament, Tanjug said. The badly damaged craft made a forced landing but the official, Vladimir Seks, and the other nine people on board were uninjured. Tanjug said armed Serbs were suspected.

Federal troops in tanks and armored personnel carriers - as well as ambulances - were headed to Borovo Selo late Thursday, after several hours of clashes were reported there between Serbs and Crostian police.

Another policeman, 23-year-old Franko Lisica, was killed by Serbs while patrolling with a Croatian police unit in Polaca, Tanjug quoted Croatian radio as saying. Polaca is 210 miles west of Belgrade.

Violence between Serbs and Croatians, the two largest ethnic groups among Yugoslavia’s 24 million people, has been at the center of the political conflict over Yugoslavia’s future.

Thursday’s report was the highest casualty figure in the ongoing clashes between the Serbs and Croats. Serbians are a minority in the Croatian republic and are seeking to have their lands annexed to Serbia, the largest of Yugoslavia’s republics.

Hundreds of thousands of Croatians and Serbs were slaughtered in civil strife that took place during World War II.

Croatia’s Western-oriented leadership has threatened to secede from Yugoslavia if the Balkan nation does not turn over more responsibility to its six republics and two provinces. Communist-run Serbia has insisted on maintaining tight central control.

Federal army units also were sent Thursday to separate Serb militia and Croatian police at Plitvice National Park, where two people died during fighting in March.

Military units were placed between Croatian police stationed at a bridge at Plitvice and local Serbian militia blocking the main road south of the park, Tanjug said.

The agency said the military closed access roads to the park and quoted the army as saying it would not allow the Serbians to pass.

Two people were killed in Plitvice on March 31, when Serbian militants sought to take over a tourist company at the park.

No trouble was reported at the park Thursday.

Army units also entered the mainly Croatian villages of Potkonje and Vrpolje overnight to prevent ethnic fighting after Serbian militia moved into the area, Tanjug said.

One man was slightly wounded in shooting between police and villagers and nine people were taken into custody, Tanjug said.

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