Vukovar Anniversary Sparks Fear Among Serbs, Hope for Croats
VUKOVAR, Croatia (AP) _ The fourth anniversary Saturday of the fall of Vukovar sparked sharply differing emotions attached to the town that most symbolizes Croat-Serb enmity.
The Croats say at least 600 soldiers and 1,200 civilians perished during the relentless three-month bombardment by rebel Serbs backed by the Serb-led Yugoslav army.
The fall of the strategic Danube River town came to symbolize the Serb conquest of one-third of Croatian territory in its 1991 war of secession from Yugoslavia.
Serbs in the town expressed fear for their future under a recent agreement to peacefully reintegrate Vukovar and the surrounding region _ the last Serb-held land in Croatia _ into Croatia.
In the capital Zagreb, Croat refugees from Vukovar voiced hope they will one day go home.
Marking the fourth anniversary of what they call the liberation of the town, Serbs in Vukovar held a memorial service with a liturgy by Orthodox priests and an army squadron firing into the air.
Women clad in black wept and called the names of loved ones as they touched the cold white marble tombs at a tiny cemetery in the center of town built for the Serbs who fell for Vukovar.
``He died for nothing,″ said Vojka Vojinovic, sobbing over her son’s grave.
Vojinovic wept anew as she added, ``And I’ll never see my granddaughter.″ Her son had been married to a Croat who fled with the child to government-held Croatia when war erupted.
Last Sunday, under pressure from foreign mediators, recent Croatian victories and and their former patron, President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, the Serbs of the Vukovar region signed an agreement to restore Croatian authority after a maximum two years of international supervision.
This month, three Serb army officers were charged with war crimes for the massacre of 261 non-Serb men herded out of Vukovar hospital in 1991.
Many Serbs in this region are skeptical Croats and Serbs can live together again in the slice of land along Croatia’s border with Serbia.
Some 180,000 Serbs have already fled from other formerly rebel-held territories when the Croats retook them in May and August. Most of those Serbs are eking out an existence as unwanted refugees in Serbia.
Vukovar’s Serb mayor, Slavko Dokmanovic, insisted Croats can only to return to the region around Vukovar if Serbs are allowed back to their homes elsewhere in Croatia.
In Zagreb, Vukovar’s Croat mayor, Jure Kolak, told fellow refugees from the town that they will return peacefully, ``because Vukovar must again become part of free Croatia.″
With ruined, shell-blasted buildings, Vukovar has mostly remained a grim memorial to war’s devastation. Over the past four years, with U.N. peacekeepers deployed in the region, little visible repair work was done.
``People here are poor and they really think Croatian authorities will be here sooner or later,″ said a Serb soldier who would only give his first name, Mirko. ``So why try to repair anything?″