New Cease-Fire Declared In Yugoslav Fighting
ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Croatia and a federal army general, building on a week of diplomatic momentum, agreed today on the 13th cease-fire in the bloody Serb-Croat conflict.
The truce will go into effect at 6 p.m. local time (noon EST) Saturday, and be accompanied by negotiations on withdrawing the army from its bases in Croatia and on sending relief to besieged Croatian cities, officials said after European Community-sponsored talks.
Croatian Vice President Mato Granic and army Gen. Andrija Raseta expressed optimism that the cease-fire could stop the fighting between Croats and an ethnic Serbian minority supported by federal forces.
Hope for a settlement was raised this week when all sides agreed to allow U.N. peacekeeping forces in Croatia.
But EC official Jan Dirk van Houten, who mediated the latest talks, remained cautious.
″No one believes in any cease-fire until we see it is working,″ he said in an interview.
Twelve previous EC-sponsored cease-fires have failed to stop Europe’s bloodiest fighting since World War II. Some 2,000 people have died since Croatia declared independence on June 25.
It was not clear whether Raseta could speak for all forces in the Serb- dominated army, whose leaders appear split between hard-liners and others seeking compromises to end the conflict.
Hours before the agreement was reached, Raseta offered to withdraw all federal forces in a month if Croatia lifted its blockades of military bases.
Croatian fighters - outgunned by federal forces - encircled army bases in September to cut off supplies to soldiers. The army responded by escalating attacks.
″Our only condition is for (the Croats) not to take any action at all,″ Raseta told reporters. ″If Croatia would let us withdraw, we’d leave tomorrow.″
″We are all sick of the war,″ he said.
However, in an indication of the army’s split, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Marko Negovanovic was quoted today by the Belgrade NIN weekly as saying the army should stay in Serb-populated areas of Croatia even if peacekeepers are deployed.
A faction led by Defense Minister Veljko Kadijevic advocates the army’s withdrawal, while those led by the Serb hard-line chief of staff, Gen. Blagoje Adzic, demand that troops remain, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Raseta has been designated to negotiate with Croatia, but has no direct control on two key fronts: the Adriatic port of Dubrovnik and the Danube town of Vukovar.
Croatia has refused to give up any land in exchange for independence, but Serbia claims the ethnic Serbs would be persecuted in an independent Croatia. Serb-led forces have captured nearly a third of Croatia.
Hours before the EC talks resumed, fighting continued to rage across Croatia.
In the eastern town of Osijek, federal artillery and mortar attacks were launched from Serb-held villages, said Croatian defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Federal forces also continued their offensive on the besieged town of Vokovar, where outnumbered Croat defenders used land mines and sniper fire in attempts to halt the advance.
The fall of Vukovar to federal forces would give the military a firm hold on eastern Croatia and respresent a severe psychological blow to Croats - who see the city as a symbol of their independence struggle.
The British network Independent Television News said in London that one of its reporters, David Chater, was shot and seriously injured while filming in Vukovar today.
It said Chater, 38, was believed to have been hit by a sniper. ITN described his wounds as serious but not critical and said he was flown to a hospital in Belgrade for surgery.
In the port of Split, three crew members on board a ferry were killed when federal gunboats opened fire today, Croatian radio said.
Dubrovnik, under siege by Yugoslav forces since Oct. 1, was quiet for a third day under a local cease-fire, the radio reported.
A ferry jammed with 4,000 refugees from Dubrovnik sailed today to its home port, Rijeka, about 250 miles northwest, said EC deputy spokesman Ed Koestal.
Despite heavy bombardment from federal forces, the medieval walled center of Dubrovnik suffered relatively little damage, said General Federico Mayor, director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.