Serb-Led Forces Fire on Embattled Cities; EC to Send Peace Envoy
ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Croat rebels and civilians, their bodies and minds exhausted by weeks of fighting and hunger, huddled in shelters Tuesday as Serb-led forces drove to capture Vukovar and Dubrovnik - embattled cities that have come to embody Croatia’s fight for independence.
″The right word to describe Vukovar is that Vukovar as a city doesn’t exist any more. ... There is not one house, no street. Entire life is going on underground, but I could hardly call it life,″ said resident Alempka Merkovic, in an interview with the BBC. Troops were reported to be within 200 yards of the city center.
In Dubrovnik, a medieval fortress perched above the Adriatic, shells from federal guns landed in the heart of the city, killing at least 20 people, Croatian TV said. Thousands took to underground shelters as tourist hotels, a hospital and other targets were hit, a city resident said.
″I think that Dubrovnik has hours left now, not days,″ resident Kathy Wilkes told BBC-TV by telephone from the port. ″Swathes of houses (are) burned or blown-up.″
The two Croat strongholds have great symbolic and strategic importance in the 4 1/2 -month-old civil war, which has claimed nearly 2,000 lives since Croatia declared independence June 25.
The fall of Vukovar, besieged for nearly three months, would give the Serb- dominated federal forces near-complete control of the eastern Croatia region of Slavonia.
Dubrovnik, under attack for five weeks, is a key Adriatic port. Its well- preserved, walled old city is considered an international cultural treasure and has attracted throngs of tourists who bring precious hard currency.
The European Community dispatched its chief peace negotiator, Britain’s Lord Carrington, to Yugoslavia in the latest attempt to broker a truce. The EC last week imposed sanctions on Yugoslavia in an attempt to halt the fighting.
The Red Cross urged Yugoslav, Serbian and Croatian authorities to ″spare innocent lives.″
Stipe Mesic, the Croatian chairman of the defunct federal presidency, appealed for U.N. peacekeeping troops on the Serbian-Croatian border. In Belgrade, the four members of the presidency loyal to Serbia requested U.N. forces in Croatia.
But the EC, meeting in the Netherlands, said no peacekeeping troops will be sent to Yugoslavia until a lasting cease-fire is in place. Few of the dozen cease-fires negotiated by the EC have lasted more than a few hours.
The Serb-dominated federal military moved against Croatia in July to back ethnic Serb rebels opposed to secession. The Serb forces have captured about a third of the secessionist republic.
Croatian leaders accuse Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic of trying to build a larger Serbia as Yugoslavia disintegrates.
Belgrade Radio reported Tuesday night that ″Fierce street fighting continues in Vukovar ... The front line is now about 100-200 meters (yards) from the centre of Vukovar, where the remnants of the Croatian secessionist forces are dug in.″
The radio also said captured Croatian fighters have reported that 140 Croatian soldiers and police were killed in three days of fighting around the village of Karadzicevo, about 25 miles north of Vukovar.
It referred to the Croatian fighters as ″Ustasha,″ a reference to the Nazi puppet state that ruled Croatia during World War II. Most Croatians resent any linking of their current independence struggle with the Ustasha state.
In Dubrovnik, Croatian radio reported, 50,000 residents taking refuge in shelters and cellars were running short of bread and drinking water.
Among the buildings damaged in the shelling is the Sponza palace, where centuries of historical documents are kept.
″There is debris all over the old town center,″ the radio said. ″Ships are ablaze in the old town port.″
The Yugoslav news agency Tanjug quoted army Col. Radomir Damjanovic as saying the army did not want to fire at civilian targets in Dubrovnik, but ″will fire at all points from which we are fired at.″
He said the only way for Croats to preserve Dubrovnik is to surrender, Tanjug said.
The EC attempted Tuesday to pull out 14 observers from Dubrovnik.
EC spokesman Ed Koestal in Zagreb said 1,200 civilians would be allowed to leave with the monitors, but that the timing had not yet been worked out.
″We fear there’ll be a stampede,″ he said.
Tanjug reported a ferry sent to fetch the monitors was being held at a port in neighboring Montenegro were it was checked by the military, a process that would take up to three days.
On Tuesday, the EC ministers agreed to seek an emergency U.N. Security Council session on the worsening Yugoslav conflict, according to a German official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.