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Atrocities Spawn Demand for Revenge in Yugoslav War

December 20, 1991

ZADAR, Yugoslavia (AP) _ When the bloody corpses of Branko Segaric’s father and brother were heaved into black plastic body bags at Zadar’s morgue, he could recognize them only by their hands.

″My brother had one finger missing and my father had crippled hands, that’s how I knew it was them,″ Segaric, a weathered 37-year-old Croat construction worker, recalled in a deep hoarse voice.

He said their faces were blown apart by bullets fired at close range.

Stories like this have become common from both the Croatian and Serbian sides in Yugoslavia’s brutal civil war.

Reports of massacres and abductions feed suspicions inherited from a violent Balkan history. Confirmed or not, they spawn demands for revenge that frustrate attempts to halt Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. Survivors said 11 members of Segaric’s family were slain after Serb insurgents backed by Yugoslav army soldiers marched into Skabernje on Nov. 18. Segaric hid in the bushes.

A pathologist’s report said at least 45 Croat villagers were shot, 40 from close range. They were buried in a common grave in Zadar, a Dalmatian port 12 miles west of Skabernje. Fifty more villagers are missing.

″I don’t know if I could ever live there again, but I’ll go back at least to free the ruins of my village,″ Segaric pledged.

″All I live for now is revenge,″ added his friend, Ante Rogic, who lost 20 relatives.

Croats in Zadar played down reports that scores of Serbs vanished from Gospic, 36 miles northeast, with many believed killed.

Serb villagers fleeing into neighboring Bosnia tell how they were forced from their homes. Local reporters, opposition activists and lawyers report other deaths or disappearances.

Leaders of Croatia’s 600,000-member ethnic Serb minority refuse to live in the independent Croatia proclaimed June 25. They are haunted by memories of mass killings by Croat fascists backed by Nazi Germany in World War II.

Croats remember murders by Serbian ultranationalist Chetnik units and by Communist partisans.

Yugoslavia’s civil war during World War II was infamous, and brutality has spiraled again.

Former neighbors and school chums have become the most bitter and cruel of foes in village after village on obscure fronts.

Rogic and Segaric said survivors of Skabernje, once home to 2,000 Croats, compiled a list of 52 Serbs from surrounding villages recognized during the attack.

Nothing but rough estimates are possible, but credible reports indicate hundreds may have died in massacres. Thousands have died in the conflict.

Rogic’s 60-year-old mother Zorka said she huddled in a cellar with 50 other villagers until a masked man poked his head in and threatened to throw a hand grenade unless they came out.

″We came out ... they pushed the men against the wall and said nothing would happen to them, but when they all came out they shot them all, eight of them,″ she said, counting on her fingers.

She said the army finally halted the slaughter, but not before one woman who tried to stop it was shot down and her body crushed by a tank.

Village barber Ante Razov, son of a mixed Croat-Serb marriage, was machine- gunned lying face down on the ground, Rogic said. The pathologist’s report said Razov’s right ear was sliced off, his right eye gouged out.

Even among moderate Serbs, there is concern about alleged atrocities committed by Croats.

Milorad Pupovac, a Zagreb Serb who helped in peace efforts, said he had information that about 100 Serbs, loyal to Croatia, disappeared last month from the Gospic region.

Smiljan Reljic, a Croatian Interior Ministry official, said, ″The figure is not so large as is being spread about, and they’re not all members of the Serbian minority.″

Reljic acknowledged police found bodies, but he withheld comment while an investigation was under way.

Thirteen ethnic Serbs were found dead in and around Sisak, and others in Zagreb, according to Croatian opposition activists and local journalists.

Zagreb police arrested four Croatian guardsmen this week for allegedly slaying Serb businessman Mihajlo Zec, his wife and 12-year-old daughter.

Slobodan Budak, a Croatian lawyer representing families of Serbs missing from Karlobag, near Gospic, said: ″I can’t exclude this is happening in other parts of the republic.″

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