Army Better Trained and Equipped than During Previous Fight With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ In an offensive that recaptured land from the Serbs, the Croatian army has demonstrated it is no longer the toothless force that faced the powerful Yugoslav army in 1991.
The Croatians, with a year to train, organize and buy weapons, now face a smaller, increasingly isolated band of Serbs near the Adriatic coast.
They would have a tough time in an all-out war with the Yugoslav army, but the army appears to be shunning the fighting, although some commanders have threatened to move into Croatia if it spreads.
The Croatian army ″made best use of the last year ... the important thing is that they regard themselves as capable,″ Mike Trueman, the European Community’s military adviser in Zagreb, said in an interview.
Paul Beaver, publisher of the authoritative Jane’s Defence Weekly in Britain, said Croatia now has an array of weapons including about 120 tanks, all captured from the Yugoslav army.
Croatia has easily circumvented a U.N. embargo to buy arms on the black market, Beaver said. Croatia has bought anti-aircraft missiles from Chile, Russia and America, uniforms from Britain and Germany, ration packs from France and Britain, radios from Britain, France and Italy.
The Serbs who rebelled against Croatia’s 1991 declaration of independence captured about a third of the republic’s territory with the help of the Yugoslav army. Croatia was badly outgunned.
But the Serb militias in southern Croatia now are 10-12 times smaller than the Croatian force, according to Gen. Radovan Radinovic, head of the Yugoslav army defense group.
″They are not so well equipped ... they have older weapons and they have less formal training,″ Beaver said.
By the time of the January 1992 cease-fire, Croatia had about 200,000 volunteers, draftees and a small group of professionals in its armed forces.
Since then, the Croatian army has demobilized much of its force and undergone a ″Western-style″ transformation, said Fran Visnar, a Zagreb writer on military affairs.
Visnar said the army now has about 60,000 professionals, including two motorized brigades. The air force ″is still in diapers″ with two captured MiG-21 jets and several helicopters, he said. The navy has five boats equipped with rockets.
Last Friday, the army suddenly attacked Serb forces near the Adriatic port of Zadar. It captured a key bridge at Maslenica and pushed the Serbs back 10 miles in some places. On Thursday, Croats took the Peruca dam.
Croatian officials say they lost 15 soldiers and three policemen and claim they counted the bodies of 45 Serbs in the fighting.
The victories have been a big morale boost in Croatia, drawing praise even from opposition parties. One newspaper referred to the army commander, Gen. Janko Bobetko, as ″Janko Patton.″
The timing of the first attacks, a day before peace talks in Geneva, left many observers perplexed. Visnar said he believed the military pushed the idea to demonstrate its new-found strength.
Beaver said he assumed President Franjo Tudjman was under ″mounting pressure at home to reunite separated parts of Croatia and get the economy moving again.″
The Serbs hold widely dispersed swathes of territory in Croatia, making their logistical problems difficult. Much heavy weaponry under Serb control is committed to the fighting in Bosnia.
Foreign analysts said they doubted a full-scale war would reignite. Although Serb paramilitary groups have signed up hundreds of volunteers, Radinovic said Friday that the Yugoslav army ″will remain out of the conflict as long as the territory of Yugoslavia is not endangered.″