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Bitterness, Tragedy Lurk Behind Revelry of Vukovar Wedding With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

November 20, 1991

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Tanja Domazet and Tomislav Duic crossed minefields, dodged sniper bullets and swam icy rivers to escape Vukovar as their besieged hometown crumbled.

Three days later, still wearing their camouflage uniforms of the Croatian military police, they were married Tuesday in a Zagreb restaurant as relatives and 36 comrades-in-arms watched in pride.

Wine flowed, and a wedding cake bearing Croatia’s distinctive checkerboard emblem was sliced. Guests tearfully sang Croatia’s national anthem before dancing to a local three-piece band.

But the revelry and relief at having escaped the town devastated by a three-month siege could not mask sadness at what they’d left behind.

″My mom would be so happy to see this. ... She’s still in Vukovar,″ Tanja, the 21-year-old bride, said tearfully.

She was one of several women members of the military police unit that fled the eastern Croatian city Saturday when Croatian bullets ran out amid street- by-street warfare.

The city has been one of several key battle sites in nearly five months of warfare between Croatians, ethnic Serbs and the Serb-dominated federal army over the republic’s declaration of independence.

By Tuesday, sporadic fighting continued, but the army and Serb irregulars appeared almost totally in control of the town.

At the wedding in Croatia’s capital, Marin Ivankovic, a 26-year-old former receptionist at Vukovar’s riverside Hotel Danav, toasted the newlyweds before grabbing a partner and starting to waltz.

But within moments his dancing became mechanical and his eyes glazed over, perhaps as he thought of the parents and girlfriend he left behind.

″They wouldn’t have lasted 15 minutes through those fields,″ he said at one point, describing his unit’s flight.

Vukovar’s defenders had hoped against all odds to deal Serb fighters backed by the federal army a defeat on a psychological par with Stalingrad’s holdout against Nazi German forces in World War II.

But when the ammunition ran out Saturday, Cmdr. Ivica Franic, 30, led his unit around Serb-held villages, across 10 minefields, through frequent bursts of sniper fire and across two rivers to escape.

Three were killed by grenades before they reached Vinkovci, a Croatian stronghold 10 miles to the southwest, where they could board buses for Zagreb.

″We had to skirt every village, we drank water from puddles under wrecked tanks, we ate turnips raw from the fields,″ said Tomislav Plavic, 25, who left his parents behind in a cellar below the rubble of their former home.

″Every day was like a year,″ he said of the siege. ″Every day we lost a street, but there were a lot of streets in Vukovar.″

He said his worst experience was trying to transport wounded to the bowels of Vukovar’s bombed-out hospital, where little water and medicine were left to treat the wounded.

″If you couldn’t find a car, they’d die in your arms,″ he said, adding that even if they arrived, the care was minimal. ″With no antibiotics left, even a slight graze meant you could lose a limb.″

Ivankovic was bitter that little military help had come from Zagreb, and at how the fighting had torn apart the town of about half Croats and half Serbs.

″We kept waiting for help, but none came,″ he said.

″All my best friends were on the other side, they all shot at me. I shot at them,″ he said. ″I’m never going back, I couldn’t live there ... Vukovar will remain a graveyard and a monument to the Serbian people.″

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