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Disbelief, Sense of Betrayal Pursue Serb Refugees

August 9, 1995

KLASNICE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The cries of exhausted children and the chugging noise of cars and tractors mingle with gasoline fumes in the hazy heat along miles of road jammed with Serb refugees fleeing Croatia.

Aid workers say up to 200,000 refugees, who fled a Croatian army assault on Serb-held lands in Croatia, may be on the road in the largest single wave of refugees in four years of war in the Balkans.

Even as they fled, there were reports of columns of refugees being shelled. Local aid workers said others were dying from exhaustion, heat and hunger. UNICEF said 10,000 infants were among the refugees.

Fleeing in cars, tractors and horse-drawn carts with wobbly wooden wheels, thousands of refugees jammed the roads along hundreds of miles from the Croatian border, through Serb-held parts of Bosnia toward Serbia to the east.

Dazed from the past days’ terror as Croatian forces shelled their homes and advanced on their towns, and groping in silent dignity for some explanation for their misery, people stared ahead, barely speaking.

The elderly hid from the blazing sun under umbrellas. Youngsters fetched water from water tanks that Bosnian Serb rebels provided along the route.

When night fell, the sweltering heat gave way to chilly rains. Some people wrapped themselves in blankets and sought shelter under tractors.

As the refugees mulled their fate, they vented their anger at the Serb leaders who drew them into war.

``The truth is, we have been sold out. We have been used for political games,″ said Milan Jojic, a Serb fighter from a village near Knin, the Croatian Serbs’ stronghold which fell to the Croatian army Saturday.

Millions of people have been driven from their homes since warfare erupted in former Yugoslavia with a Serb rebellion against Croatia’s secession in 1991. About 10,000 people were killed in the ensuing six-month war in which Serbs captured about one-third of Croatia. The Croatian army regained most of that land with its weekend offensive.

Serbs in Bosnia rebelled against that state’s secession from Serbia-led Yugoslavia in 1992 and captured about two-thirds of Bosnian territory. An estimated 200,000 people are dead or missing.

Most refugees until now have been Bosnian Muslims and Croats driven out by Serb nationalists intent on fulfilling their dream of creating a ``Greater Serbia,″ linking their holdings in Bosnia and Croatia with Serbia.

Serbia’s President Slobodan Milosevic inspired that dream and the Serb rebellions. But hoping to get international sanctions lifted, he has, at least publicly, abandoned that goal and severed his support for the rebels.

Refugees pondered why Milosevic did not send the Yugoslav army to aid the Serbs when the Croatian army attacked last Friday. They thought they found the answer in widespread rumors of a clandestine deal between Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to carve up Bosnia between them.

``Milosevic once promised that all Serbs will live in one state, and it seems he’s right,″ said a soldier who would identify himself only as Nikola. ``But, that state will be Serbia proper, if it survives.″

``We should all go to Belgrade in front of Milosevic’s home to tell him: `Here we are, you pushed us into this war, take care of us now,‴ said another soldier.

The Serb refugees’ despair was summed up by Zagorka Popovic, who already fled once in the 1991 war.

``People are slowly dying along this road. And maybe those who died are happier than those who will survive. Where to go, how to begin a new life for the third time?″ Popovic said. ``We are all tired.″

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