EC Observer Copter Hit, Forced Down in Croatian Battle Zone


A helicopter carrying European Community officials on an observer mission was hit by gunfire Friday during fighting between Serbs and Croats in the rebel republic of Croatia.

The French-made Alouette was forced to land on farmland after being hit by three bullets near the town of Novska, southeast of the Croatian capital of Zagreb.

"There was material damage but no personal injury," EC spokesman Marco Hennis said. The two observers and the two crewmen were later picked up by EC officials in a car and returned safely to Zagreb.

The helicopter was hit during a fierce gun battle between Serbian guerrillas and Croatian security forces around the town of Okucani, near Novska.

Witnesses said several people were killed in the fighting, which Belgrade radio said erupted after Croatian police and national guard units rejected an ultimatum to leave two nearby villages.

Zagreb Radio said "terrorists," its way of describing Serbian guerrillas, fired on the helicopter.

But Hennis said it was unclear who had fired.

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