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Serbs, Croatians Clash On Border Of Disputed Area

March 31, 1991

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ The federal presidency ordered its army Sunday to keep order in Croatia after ethnic Serbs fought the republic’s police, leaving two people dead and wounding 21, officials and reports said.

The clash raised tensions anew in the feud between the country’s two largest ethnic groups only days after their leaders met amicably.

The confrontation occurred when police tried to retake a national park occupied by the Serbs for two days. The Serbs had declared the park, which borders the Serbian-dominated and secessionist region of Krajina, to be part of Krajina.

Ethnic Serbs make up a majority of the population in Krajina but say Croatia’s authorities discriminate against them. Earlier this month, they proclaimed that the region had seceded from the Croatian republic, which itself has threatened to leave the national federation.

In Sunday’s clash, the Serbs ambushed an approaching police convoy from the roadside, killing one officer and wounding seven, said the Interior Ministry. A Serb from a nearby town also was reported killed, said journalist Danko Peric, speaking from the radio station in Knin, the city that Krajina Serbs claim as their capital.

Tanjug said 21 people were injured in the clash.

By mid-day, police had retaken the Plitvice national park, about 60 miles south of Zagreb.

At an emergency session to dicuss the incident, Yugoslavia’s eight-member collective presidency declared it was determined to ″ensure the peace and security of all citizens,″ the official Tanjug news agency reported.

The presidency, which commands the military, demanded an immediate end to fighting, called on both sides to withdraw their forces, and ordered the Yugoslav federal army to ensure that the cease-fire held.

Croatian Interior Minister Josip Boljkovac said on television that Yugoslav Army armored personnel carriers were patrolling near the park.

Tanjug also reported that the two sides met with the army and agreed to avoid further conflict.

Boljkovac also said that 29 people were arrested after the fighting.

Television footage showed blood on snow around police buses and jeeps that were riddled with bullet holes.

An officer interviewed on television said the police convoy had stopped because of a log barricade when it was hit by automatic weapons fire from woods on both sides of the road.

″The terrorists also indiscriminately opened fire on civilian vehicles that happened to be at the roadblocks,″ said a statement issued by the ministry.

Croatia has charged that the Krajina unrest is being orchestrated by the hard-line Communist government of Serbia, the largest of Yugoslavia’s six republics, in an attempt to destabilize pro-Western Croatia.

Serbs and Croats have been rivals since they were united in one country in 1918.

Yet fears of a civil war had eased after a surprise meeting last week between Serbia’s Marxist president, Slobodan Milosevic, and his Croatian counterpart, Franjo Tudjman.

The two reportedly agreed to resolve their differences peacefully, with Milosevic giving Croatia a free hand to re-establish control over Krajina.

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