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Serb Refugees Head to New Life in Smaller Serbia

August 11, 1995

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ A miserable band of Croatian Serb refugees followed a trail of sorrow and despair to the Serb heartland, a place more humble and distant than the ``Greater Serbia″ nationalists promised them.

For many of the thousands of refugees crossing the border from Croatia on Thursday, Serb-led Yugoslavia will be their new home.

When the old Yugoslavia disintegrated, Serb nationalists proclaimed that Serb lands would be wherever Serbs lived. They seized control of one-third of Croatia in a 1991 war and 70 percent of Bosnia in fighting that began in 1992, forcibly evicting tens of thousands of Croats and Bosnian Muslims.

But now the tables are turned. Serbs lost a piece of western Bosnia and most of what they held in Croatia following last weekend’s Croatian army offensive, and evicted Serbs have been pouring out by the thousands into Serbia, which along with Montenegro is all that is left of Yugoslavia.

``We won’t be welcome anywhere,″ said 30-year-old Branko Vukotic, one of about 5,000 Croatian Serbs who arrived Thursday in Serbia.

Serbian police, sweating through their fatigues in the hot Balkan sun, banged on manual typewriters to register the refugees and the weapons they were ordered to turn over.

Red Cross workers handed out food, drinks and diapers. One woman threw herself under a stream of water, gushing from a tank at the roadside, as the heat shimmered off the highway. ``I dreamed of this,″ she said.

Only hours before, many refugees were subjected to humiliating attacks by angry Croat civilians who threw stones, bricks and curses at passing convoys of Serb cars. An uncertain future lay in store.

``Lost things should be returned to their owners,″ said 31-year-old Nada Bobic, turning in her hand a stone that was thrown threw her car window. ``I am going to send this back one day.″

One soldier, Stevan Pavlovic, asked about the rapid fall of the Serb resistance in Croatia, said Serbs had to blame themselves.

``Crime, smuggling, that’s what ruined us,″ he said. ``The army was decaying day after day in the last couple of years. There was virtually no leadership, and then everything goes to hell.″

Serbia was scrambling to accommodate the new arrivals. Authorities were directing refugees to hastily erected centers in southern and western Serbia.

But exits to Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, were blocked.

Authorities apparently feared trouble. The refugees feel betrayed by Serbia’s President Slobodan Milosevic, whose nationalist rhetoric fueled the Serb rebellions in Croatia and Bosnia. He didn’t send the Yugoslav army to help defend the Serbs against the Croatian army, which routed them in just three days.

Croatia’s offensive set in motion the largest exodus of refugees in four years of war in former Yugoslavia. Up to 200,000 Serbs could be on the move.

Bosnia’s Muslim-led government army, allied with the Croats, took part in the offensive, which freed the Muslim border enclave of Bihac, in northwest Bosnia, from a three-year siege of Serbs and renegade Muslims.

Late Thursday, officials reported that the Muslim renegade leader, Fikret Abdic, reached a cease-fire agreement with Croat and Bosnian authorities. That, along with a cease-fire concluded with Croatian Serb rebels, was expected to further calm the situation south of Zagreb, Croatia’s capital.

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