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Scattered Fighting and Skepticism Follow Cease-Fire Deal in Yugoslavia : Ethnic strife: Shooting is reported around Croatian town. Diplomats scramble to implement accord.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Violence waned in the ethnic killing fields of Croatia on Monday, but as much skepticism as hope greeted European-imposed agreement for a cease-fire there.

The peace accord wrung early Monday by the 12-nation European Community from distrusting leaders of Yugoslavia’s divided republics stemmed most, but not all, of the bloodshed while diplomats scrambled uphill for ways to implement the agreement.

Only scattered new fighting was reported between Serbian irregulars and Croatian nationalists in a region riven by a summer of ethnic warfare that has claimed more than 300 lives.

At least one man died and four were wounded in sporadic clashes between Croats and rebellious Serbs. Heavy shooting was reported around the Croatian town of Petrinja, south of Zagreb, with each side blaming the other for starting it.

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Monday’s fragile four-point agreement, made possible by the grudging acceptance of hard-line Serbian leaders, calls for a cease-fire and the separation of forces followed by disarming and disbandment of irregular forces.

“The reserve force of the Croatian National Guard will be demobilized and the Yugoslav army will return to barracks,” the agreement asserts. Up to 150 European observers are to oversee the cease-fire as a prelude to a peace conference with arbitrator’s power to resolve the dispute between Belgrade-based Serbia and independence-seeking Croatia.

Community ministers are to meet in The Hague today to follow up the tenuous accord.

Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, who engineered the agreement at an acrimonious six-hour meeting with Yugoslav leaders, set the tone for the aftermath, saying: “I don’t believe for a moment that things will now all of a sudden become easy.”

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Previous peace efforts, the last in August, have all failed to halt violence that intensified after Croatia’s declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in June. Since then, Serbian irregulars, supported--in the European view--by Serbia and sometimes backed militarily by the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav armed forces, have seized control of about one-fifth of Croatia.

Fearing open civil war, the European Community threatened sanctions against Serbia if it did not agree to a cease-fire and subsequent peace conference.

“We have to accept the apparent serious change in the Serbian attitude. But we also must remember that this is a country where accords are signed one day and broken the next,” said one senior European diplomat.

Diplomats said Monday that the fear of isolation appears to have been instrumental in the decision by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to the European initiative. One diplomat speculated that Serbian hard-liners had been thrust toward accommodation by the failure of the coup in the Soviet Union--which Serbia did not denounce while it was under way.

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At any peace conference, the diplomats speculate, Milosevic, a former Communist boss who now says he is a Socialist, will likely demand that lands occupied by Serbians in Croatia remain with them as a right of self-determination.

Irregulars claiming to represent the 600,000 Serbian minority in Croatia said Monday that they will respect the cease-fire but will only accept negotiations in which they participate as “the sole representatives of the Serbian nation in Croatia.”

Recalling the fate of thousands of Serbs massacred by Croatian fascists during World War II, Serbia charges that Serbs in Croatia would be forcibly assimilated in any independent state and that they should have the right to remain as part of a Belgrade-ruled state.

After signing the accord early Monday, Milosevic said Serbs and Croatians must participate equally in monitoring the cease-fire and in subsequent negotiations. “The victims of aggression must be protected, and Serbs are the victims of the violence in Croatia,” he told Belgrade television.

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In Zagreb, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told a news conference: “This declaration has taken us closer to peace. I think it will live, not easily, but with difficulty. . . . We have most probably avoided a big war.”

Still, he added, there is danger of new fighting: “No one in responsibility in Croatia is naive enough to think that just by signing a piece of paper we have achieved peace.”

Outgunned by Serbia, the Croatian government welcomes internationalization of the conflict. At a peace conference, it would seek European support for its independence with current internal borders, which Serbia opposes.

A Tudjman adviser warned Monday that Serbia will now “try to obtain through negotiations what it has seized through force.” Together with the neighboring republic of Slovenia, Croatia declared independence in June when Serbia rejected a plan to transform Yugoslavia into an association of sovereign republics.

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