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Refugees say Tudjman should finish the job

June 16, 1997

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Maybe he didn’t send enough weapons to defend them. Maybe he sacrificed their region to win international recognition for Croatia. Maybe they now live in poverty and neglect.

Croat refugees from the last Serb-held region of Croatia have some doubts about the job President Franjo Tudjman did protecting them when Serbs rebelled in 1991.

But, like most other Croats, on Sunday they appeared to believe the 75-year-old incumbent offered the best chance to reunify Croatia and return their homes to them.

They voted for Tudjman, who was moving toward an almost certain victory according to early returns. With two-thirds of the votes counted early Monday, Tudjman had 59 percent to 23 percent for his nearest rival, Social Democrat Zdravko Tomac.

``When you put on the balance the good and bad things that he has done, the good would still prevail,″ said Ivica Petrusic, a 30-year-old former soldier from Tovarnik.

Petrusic was one of the defenders of Vukovar, the main town in the region, that was shelled to rubble by Yugoslav army and local Serbs in late 1991.

When it fell in November 1991, Tudjman faced accusations that he didn’t do enough to defend it, and perhaps used its misery to goad European powers to recognize his Yugoslav republic as an independent country.

Petrusic does not want to talk about that. ``The fact is that Tudjman created an independent Croatia, something that my dad and my grandfathers longed for, and that’s what matters,″ he said.

At polling stations set up for the refugees, women dressed in black, many of whom lost their husbands or children during the 1991 Serb-Croat war, sought instructions on how to vote and later chatted about the prospects of return.

On the walls around them were obituaries of Croats killed by Serbs after Vukovar was captured. Their bodies were exhumed last last year from a mass grave.

After the Croatian army recaptured most of the Serb-held territory in 1995, Serbs around Vukovar agreed to accept gradual return of Croatian rule there, culminating this summer.

Tudjman negotiated that agreement. He also led a train to Vukovar last Sunday. Although the train just briefly stopped at the railway station, Tudjman said it was a symbolical beginning of a return of all Croats. Refugees seem to believe him.

``He started the process, and he should be here to finish it,″ said 66-year-old refugee Marija Matosevic.

``I will choose the one who has done the most for Croatia so far,″ added 34-year-old Verica Jursa, a refugee from Ilok, on the border with Yugoslavia. ``That one is our former, current and, I hope, future president.″

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