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Relief Convoy Reaches Safety After Horror Ride; Fighting Continues

October 20, 1991

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Braving mortars and minefields, a relief convoy pulled in safely behind Croatian lines Sunday to turn over to hospitals scores of seriously wounded people evacuated from an embattled Croat stronghold.

Doctors and European Community monitors on the convoy criticized both Serbs and Croats for failing to cease fire during the 13-hour journey from the besieged town of Vukovar. They were especially concerned for residents left behind, including more than 2,000 children, in the battered town.

Fighting resumed in Croatia’s eastern Slavonia region on Sunday afternoon, and Croats and Serbs blamed each other for violating the latest cease-fire attempt.

Fighting also was reported around the medieval Croatian port of Dubrovnik. And mortar shells reportedly fell on villages south of Zagreb, as well as the eastern strongholds of Osijek and Vukovar.

More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting that began after Croatia declared independence June 25. All previous cease-fires have failed.

Early Sunday, a convoy of doctors and nurses from Doctors Without Borders and EC monitors arrived dropped off 113 seriously wounded people from Vukovar to two Croatian hospitals, said Martin Mossinkoff, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders.

Mossinkoff told reporters in Zagreb that a 60-year-old man, suffering third-degree burns, died six hours after arriving at a field hospital in Mikanovci, 24 miles southwest of Vukovar.

The convoy came under shelling as it prepared to leave the embattled stronghold Saturday afternoon, and it was forced to make a 70-mile detour that took it through some of the most fought-over territory in Croatia.

One truck carrying aid workers and several wounded hit a land mine outside Vukovar, seriously injuring two nurses hurled from the vehicle. Both were reported in satisfactory condition Sunday.

The convoy finally moved into Croatian-held territory early Sunday morning, and dropped off the most serious cases at a field hospital 24 miles southwest of Vukovar. The rest went to a hospital in Djakovo, 50 miles west of Vukovar.

Describing the scene in Vukovar, Dutch EC monitor Bert Nauta said: ″It was terrible. The people came out to meet us waving, crying, like my people came out to greet the Allies liberating us at the end of World War II.″

Defense officials in Vukovar, on the Danube River border with Serbia, said as soon as a downpour ended at 2 p.m. Sunday, about 100 rockets fired from multibarrel rocket-launchers rained down on the city from the Serbian bank of the Danube.

Croatian defense officials also accused federal troops of shelling villages 18 miles south of Zagreb, the republic’s capital, as well as villages north of Osijek.

However, the army blamed Croat forces for fighting in western and central Slavonia, particulary around Nova Gradiska and Jasenovac, according to the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug.

Tanjug also quoted military sources as saying fighting was continuing on the outskirts of Dubrovnik, with the army hitting Croatian positions in two well known hotels in Srebreno and Kupari, south of the famous tourist resort.

Croatian media said the army was shelling the main coastal road north of Dubrovnik from hills.

Serbia maintains that Croatia’s 600,000 Serb minority would be persecuted if Croatia is permitted to split from Yugoslavia. Croatia accuses Serbia of using the minority issue to obscure its drive to expand its territory.

A truce reached during European Community talks in The Netherlands on Friday went into effect Saturday.

Although Serbia’s President Slobodan Milosevic was among the Yugoslav leaders who signed the truce, he rejected a broader EC plan aimed at settling the Serb-Croat hostilities behind the fighting.

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