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Serbs, Croats Bridge Differences in Petrinja

August 8, 1995

PETRINJA, Croatia (AP) _ Croats were expelled from Petrinja four years ago, Serbs were driven out last week. But despite the ethnic hatreds that divide the region, two old people _ a Serb and a Croat _ have stayed together throughout the chaos.

``I tried to stay out of their sight for the last four years,″ said Stefica Bocak-Pavlecic, 77, one of the few Croats who did not flew the 1991 Serb takeover of Petrinja.

``I only hoped they would not touch us, old women,″ she said. ``Sometimes they would tell me: `Oh, you’re still here.′ Then I would lower my head and hurry home.″

Life was ``hard, very hard,″ she said, describing the fear of going out on the streets, and of making do with next to no money. But in its hardest moments, like during Croat shelling of the past three days, Pavlecic hid in the cellar of her next-door neighbors, the Cavic family.

The Cavics are Serbs, and most of them left Petrinja, 30 miles southeast of Zagreb, when the Croat offensive started Friday to retake much of the one-third of the republic seized by the rebel Serbs in 1991.

But Milutin Cavic, 84, a diabetic still recovering from a recent leg amputation, would not or could not leave. Along with Pavlecic, he waited in his dark, dank wine cellar for the Croats to come.

``When the fighting started, my kinfolk left. No, I’m not angry with them,″ said a frail Cavic, as he waited to be taken to a hospital. ``I was only afraid of shelling and shooting, but I am not afraid of Croats. I have no reason to be afraid.″

``I respect people of all nationalities. And Stefica here, we lived like a family,″ he said.

Pavlecic nodded. For the last few days she cooked meals for Cavic. ``How could I desert a sick man?″ she murmured.

Despite few signs of fresh fighting, the city on Monday looked desolate and neglected. Almost every house bore scars from the 1991 battles.

Charred ruins, blown off roofs and deserted gas stations were never repaired. The bus station remained half buried in 4-year-old debris.

Houses were deserted, the occasional soldier walked streets covered with shards of glass. And the occasional Croat returnee cursed the few Serbs remaining.

One of them, 46-year-old Marijan Augustic, was furious after inspecting his two-story house, stripped of windows, doors and wooden floor. Greetings of his Serb neighbor, who stayed on in the city, in his mind added insult to injury.

``She wanted to hug me, as if I left the town yesterday,″ he fumed. ``I almost hit her.″

Perhaps only the young could make a fresh start. Antonio Ivanovic, 18, left his native Petrinja as a child. He came back Monday. Will he miss his Serb friends?

``There will be Serbs in Petrinja again,″ he said. ``There are many Serbs who have not harmed anyone, and they will return.″

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