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Slovenia Frees Some Prisoners, Presidency Says Army Will Not Strike

July 5, 1991

LJUBLJANA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In moves to avert war, Slovenia freed hundreds of captured federal troops Friday, and the head of Yugoslavia’s presidency said the army would not strike again at the breakaway republic.

As most of the more than 2,000 released federal soldiers left Slovenia on trains and buses, the republic’s information minister, Jelko Kacin, said Slovenia also was complying with other federal demands to defuse the crisis.

In diplomatic developments, the European Community, alarmed by what it saw as a lack of civilian control over the federal army, froze about $1 billion in aid to Yugoslavia. The 12-nation trade bloc also banned arms sales by members to Belgrade.

It said the aid suspension would be lifted when Yugoslavia underwent ″normalization.″

Meanwhile, the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting in Prague, Czechoslovakia, agreed to support and possibly take part in any EC truce-monitoring mission.

Albania also said it was reinforcing its border with Yugoslavia’s Serb- controlled Kosovo province, where ethnic Albanians complain of persecution.

Non-Communist Croatia and Slovenia, the two northernmost republics, declared independence on June 25. Croatia has been spared attacks, partly because it has been more cautious in implementing independence plans.

On Thursday, Yugoslavia’s collective presidency ordered Slovenia to withdraw from combat positions against the federal army, release all prisoners, lift blockades of army bases and surrender its 27 international border posts by noon Sunday.

Slovenia responded Friday that it had begun a partial demobilization of its militia. Although not declaring compromise, the republic said it was willing at at least discuss the issue of border posts.

Matyaz Kmecl, Slovenia’s representative on the presidency, said of the border issue: ″Our stance is that (a solution of) all controversial issues must be achieved by negotiation.″

Until now, Slovenia has refused to surrender the posts on the Italian, Austrian and Hungarian frontiers, which have become potent symbols of the republic’s sovereignty.

The federal army and Slovenian militia fought three days last week for control of the posts, following the republic’s declaration of independence. The fighting resumed briefly Tuesday.

Federal army prisoners taken in those clashes began leaving the republic shortly after it announced it would comply with the federal government’s demand.

The Slovenian Red Cross said 2,316 federal soldiers had either surrendered, deserted or were captured.

The federal government, for its part, said Friday it would not use force against Slovenia, even if the republic defied its ultimatum.

″The army will remain in its barracks,″ Stipe Mesic, chairman of the eight-member federal presidency, was quoted as telling Germany’s Bild newspaper.

Mesic also was quoted as saying the presidency was prepared to compromise on the border issue.

″The solution is: the Slovenes retain control of the border posts, but customs revenues have to be given to the (Yugoslav) federation,″ he told Bild. ″Slovenia can thus retain its sovereignty.″

Mesic said the presidency had reasserted control over the military after a week in which the army defied its civilian leadership by sending tanks and warplanes against Slovenia.

Despite the parallel moves to defuse the crisis, tensions were still running high Friday.

Lt. Gen. Marko Negovanovic, a federal army officer, said the Slovenes continued to blockade federal military bases despite claims to the contrary.

He also claimed that Slovenian forces were mobilizing near the republic’s second-largest city, Maribor, and warned the army would respond to every attack with fire.

He said two soldiers and one officer had been wounded in attacks on army facilities and warehouses that violated the cease-fire imposed Thursday.

The Slovenian Ministry of Information rejected charges of a cease-fire violation.

The fighting since June 27 involving Slovenian militiamen and federal troops, tanks and planes has left about 90 people dead and hundreds wounded, the Slovenes claim.

The International Red Cross, reporting Friday from Slovenia, said it could confirm at least 56 deaths and more than 280 wounded.

Slovene Vice Premier Leo Seserko estimated combat damage to the republic at $2.7 billion.

Slovenian Information Minister Jelko Kacin said Friday that 10,000 of 35,000 Slovene troops had demobilized. But no Slovene leader promised a full standown of the republic’s forces.

Elsewhere Friday, Yugoslav media reported ethnic fighting between Serbs and Croatian police in northeastern Croatia. But the reports could not be confirmed and there were no claims of casualties.

The Tanjug news agency reported machine-gun fire near the village of Borovo Selo, and Belgrade TV, mortar fire in Mirkovci, where Croatian radio said national guard units were sent to clear out ″Serbian terrorists.″

About 11 percent of Croatia’s 5 million people are Serbian. Serbia, which has a hard-line Socialist government, dominates the federal army and espouses maintaining strong central control of the country’s six republics.

Ethnic fighting in Croatia has left at least 43 people dead since May 3.

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