Croats, Serbs Swap Prisoners; 3 More Killed in Ethnic Clashes
Warring Croats and Serbs on Thursday released dozens more prisoners as part of federal efforts to bolster an unraveling truce, but three people died in more ethnic bloodshed in eastern Croatia.
Members of a federal monitoring commission, alarmed by infractions that indicated the eight-day-old cease-fire might be in danger, hurried to the republic’s Slavonia region to bolster the peace.
More than 200 people have died in fighting since Croatia declared independence June 25.
A fragile cease-fire took effect Aug. 7, but it has been violated dozens of times, with at least 16 deaths in fighting since then between Croats and Serbian militants.
In the latest violence, Croatian Television reported two civilians were found dead near the town of Petrinja. A Croatian guardsman was killed in fighting around Kostajnica, 25 miles to the south, Croatia’s Defense Ministry said.
The Croats two weeks ago lost control of Kostajnica, which lies south of Zagreb and is a key link between Serb-held areas in eastern and southern Croatia. They have since retaken it and have fought almost daily battles to keep it.
In Osijek, a town in the center of Slavonia, 43 Serbs were released from the local jail, Croatian Interior Ministry officials said. Thirty-four Croats were released in Borovo Selo, a Serbian base in Croatia’s richest farming region. About 100 prisoners from both sides were exchanged earlier this week.
Osijek has been racked with ethnic violence since early July. On Thursday night, the area suffered the worst mortar attacks in more than a week. Mortar shells hit suburbs, forcing residents to spend the night in shelters, the state news agency Tanjug said.
Artillery duels also were fought between the Croat-held village of Sarvas and the nearby Serb-held stronghold of Bijelo Brdo, and around the town of Beli Manastir.
In a related development, Serbia followed secessionist republics Slovenia and Croatia by devaluing the Yugoslav dinar by about 40% against the German mark.
The moves by the three most economically powerful Yugoslav republics constitute a blow to the federal government, whose market reforms are based on tight money control.