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Croat Refugees Mourn Lost Serb-Croat Trust With PM-Yugoslavia

February 2, 1993

SIBENIK, Croatia (AP) _ Josip Baresic, a Croat who lived for months in fear, feels no hatred toward the Serbs who finally chased him from his home. Just sorrow.

Baresic was among 177 people from a Croatian suburb of Knin, a Serb stronghold, who said Monday that they were forced from their homes by Serb refugees.

The Serbs were fleeing Croat soldiers advancing from the Adriatic coast.

This pattern was first seen in Croatia’s 1991 Serb-Croat war and repeated on a much larger scale in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina - people of one ethnic group being chased out by members of another who settle into their homes.

The Serb rebellion against Croatia began in Knin, center of what Serbs call the Krajina region of southwestern Croatia.

″They were all armed, in uniforms of Krajina, and came to our houses with guns and knives, chasing us out,″ Baresic said of the men who forced him to leave.

″Everybody lives in terror of the extremist groups,″ Baresic said, including many Serbs who were his neighbors in Potkonje.

Serbs captured a third of Croatia in 1991 and have been held largely responsible for continuing tension in areas that were formally given over to U.N. control a year ago. They have prevented full implementation of a U.N. peace plan that calls for the return of civilian authority and the repatriation of refugees.

Croatia said it attacked last week because it lost patience with the plan. It has been roundly criticized internationally for breaking the longest- lasting truce since ethnic fighting broke out in former Yugoslavia more than a year and a half ago.

The Croatian offensive, begun Jan. 22 to reclaim Serb-held territory, unleashed panic among both ethnic groups and sparked a flood of Serb refugees heading east to Knin and nearby Benkovac. Serbs say about 6,000 Serbs fled.

Before the war, only about 9 percent of the Knin region’s 43,000 people were Croats. Now only about 200 to 300 are left, said Petar Pasic, a Croatian government official.

Baresic said Croats who remained were isolated because Krajina authorities have threatened any Serbs who had contact with them.

″My best friend, a Serb, begged me not to come any more to his house, because he was warned that something might happen to him,″ Baresic said.

What little trust remained between Croats and Serbs in the area dissolved with the fear that Croat forces might reach Knin. They came within 15 miles.

U.N. peacekeepers and the Red Cross looked after the group of Croat refugees in a Knin elementary school for two nights, then organized their evacuation. Baresic reached Sibenik, another Croatian port, on Sunday.

On Monday, the refugees were warming themselves in the coastal sun outside a hotel complex already overcrowded with 500 refugees from Bosnia.

Many refused to speak to reporters or would give only their first names.

Dara, a 56-year-old housewife, said she had stayed on in Potkonje to protect her house, even after her four children fled.

″It is better to be killed than (to be left) ... with nothing of my own,″ she said. Dara said many Serbs had opposed the authorities but could not say so publicly.

″Whoever is decent and honest there, has completely broken,″ Dara said. ″This war is horrible, destroying everybody.″

Another Potkonje refugee, 58-year-old Danica, said many Serbs sent greetings to refugee Croat friends they might meet in Sibenik.

She told of a Serb friend who fled the Croatian attack:

″(He) left his killed brother on the fence of his courtyard, but defended us from his former neighbor who threatened us with a gun and called us butchers and murderers.″

″But we all promised each other, we are going to reunite when peace comes, when the war finishes.″

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