HERCEG NOVI, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Residents of this Montenegrin resort near the seaside Croatian jewel of Dubrovnik are beginning to fear peace as much as war.
They watched this week as Montenegrin reservists made their way north to Dubrovnik, some of them looting and torching homes as they went. The offensive has been victorious so far, but some elders dread the epilogue.
″Every burned Croatian house made a new gap between us and our closest neighbors in Croatia,″ said Nada Simovic, a pensioner, over a cup of coffee in Cafe 5. ″Long-lasting friendships and the feeling of mutual dependency have been disappearing with every bullet fired from each side.″
Almost 300 people, mostly youths, volunteered for the war from Herceg Novi, a Dalmatian village, just south of Croatia, where two dozen ethnic groups have lived in peace for decades.
What scares residents of thus 600-year-old town is what will happen when the same soldiers return as conquering heroes, and what that will portend for relations with Croatia.
″We don’t need a wall between us. The biggest wall has already been built. The wall of hatred and fear,″ said a woman with Mrs. Simovic, who said she was afraid to give her name because of her fear of the future.
″The Croats saved me from starving during the war,″ said the woman, a retired music teacher whose family has lived in Herceg Novi for 300 years.
″I want to go to Dubrovnik to take a long walk and admire that beautiful city again and again. How could I ever again during my lifetime look into their eyes and say, ’It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t me who destroyed and robbed your houses?‴
Reservists from Montenegrin towns took advantage of a lull Tuesday in the fighting around Dubrovnik to return to Herceg Novi, explaining loudly in the cafe they were fighting to liberate Croatian people from Croatia’s government.
″My family name is Italian, my wife is half-Croat,″ said a middle-aged reservist who refused to give his name. ″When everything started, I thought it would be better to volunteer than to wait for the war heroes who could ask, where was I when they fought for my sake.″
When an old man pondered aloud whether Croats might retaliate by attacking Montenegrins in future, reservists at the next table turned their heads in disbelief, then walked out.
″Now they are just leaving, but tomorrow ... when they come back from the front as war heroes, who will dare say a word?″ Mrs. Simovic said.
″They will remember everyone who said something they didn’t like. I can see them coming into our town, shooting in the air, showing off. ... I am really scared,″ she said.
Local people also fear for the Croats who make up 15 to 20 percent of the town’s 40,000 residents.
One Croat, Goran Kize, was mobilized by the Serb-dominated army, but refused to fight.
The army apparently understood, keeping Kize at the local barracks.