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Battle Rages for Croatia Town : Yugoslavia: Serbian forces are trying to take Vukovar, with 30 people dead so far.

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Croats and Serbs battled for control of a strategic town in eastern Croatia on Wednesday, and Yugoslav leaders appealed for an end to the killing in the breakaway republic.

About 30 people died Wednesday around Vukovar, 90 miles northwest of Belgrade, the nation’s capital, Belgrade television said. It said federal warplanes and artillery bombarded Croatian positions.

Vukovar’s population of 80,000 is equally divided between Croats and Serbs. If it falls, it would become the biggest Croatian town won by Serbs since fighting erupted after Croatia’s independence declaration June 25.

More than 280 people have died in clashes since then.

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A cease-fire reached Aug. 7 has disintegrated, and Croatia’s president and the federal defense minister agreed Tuesday to work toward another truce.

The eight-member federal presidency met Wednesday in Belgrade and announced the appointment of a commission to conduct talks. A statement from the presidency said the leaders of Yugoslavia’s six republics will meet Sept. 4 to discuss the country’s future.

The presidency said it will “seriously study” a European Community proposal for a peace conference. The proposal, which would create a five-judge panel to oversee a settlement of the federation’s future course, was drafted in Brussels on Tuesday.

Stipe Mesic, the Croatian head of the federal presidency, told the state news agency Tanjug that his republic, Slovenia and Macedonia had accepted the EC initiative, while Bosnia, Serbia and its allies needed further consultations.

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Vukovar, on the Danube River border with Serbia, has been the scene of intense fighting since Saturday, Radio Belgrade said. Both sides traded accusations as to who started the latest bloodshed.

Outgunned Croatian forces in Vukovar have so far been able to repel the Serbs and the Yugoslav army, which has used tanks and warplanes to bombard the city.

However, 42 federal army tanks were moving toward Vukovar from Tovarnik, along the Danube River border with Serbia, Croatian Radio reported.

Belgrade Radio also reported artillery duels between Serbs in Borovo Selo and Croats in Borovo Naselje, villages just north of Vukovar. Sporadic exchanges of fire also took place near Osijek, a Croatian stronghold in eastern Croatia, and in Otocac.

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A Croatian TV cameraman near Osijek was among those killed on Wednesday, the Croatian Ministry of Defense said.

On Tuesday, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and the federal defense minister, Gen. Veljko Kadijevic, agreed it was “important to stop the clashes, establish a cease-fire and come to a political settlement of the Yugoslav crisis.”

But Croatian Premier Franjo Greguric repeated Wednesday that Croatia will formally secede from Yugoslavia if “the aggression” against his republic does not stop by Saturday.

He also reiterated threats to carry out a mobilization of all able-bodied Croatian males of military age, Tanjug reported.

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