British Prime Minister John Major and Lord Carrington, Europe's mediator in Yugoslavia, warned Wednesday that the failure of the current cease-fire agreement in the Balkan nation could end the last chance for peace there.
Carrington, who had brokered a cease-fire between the Serbs and the Croats on Tuesday, said he will not return to Yugoslavia if there is an extended breakdown in the truce, which was shattered Wednesday by violence.
The Associated Press reported that people standing in front of the railway station in downtown Zagreb, the Croatian capital, threw themselves under cars as gunfire rang out, and the boom of explosions was heard nearby. Sniper fire and machine-gun blasts rattled the city. Heavy fighting was reported in Varazdin, northeast of Zagreb; Sibenik, south on the Adriatic coast, and Vukovar in eastern Croatia.
Three air raid alarms sounded in the few hours before and after the truce deadline, sending people in about 20 Croatian towns scurrying for shelters, the AP said. It said that Croatia claimed to have shot down several air force jets, but the military denied it. The Tanjug news agency said one plane was downed near Petrinja, about 30 miles south of Zagreb, but that and other claims could not be confirmed.
Gen. Andrija Raseta, deputy commander of the federal army's 5th district in Zagreb, blamed Croats for an outburst of fighting that shook Zagreb starting late Tuesday, and predicted that the battles would continue despite the declared truce. Croatia accuses the federal army, whose officer corps is dominated by Serbs, of siding with rival Serbia.
Croatian Defense Minister Luka Bebic resigned, news agencies reported. He was criticized for ordering Croatian forces to lift their blockade of federal army barracks Tuesday, before the truce.
In Washington, the State Department said that 10 of the 15 officials in the U.S. Consulate in Zagreb have left for Austria because of the fighting.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Major, on a three-hour trip to the Dutch capital, The Hague, said Wednesday that Britain will oppose sending European troops to keep the peace in Yugoslavia, where battles between Serbs and Croats have claimed about 500 lives since Croatia declared its independence June 25.
After his talks in The Hague, Major said there is "no immediate likelihood" of sending an armed force to maintain a cease-fire in Yugoslavia.
During his meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, Major set out four conditions under which Britain might send troops to help secure a truce. He said the forces might be committed if: there were a real cease-fire, an invitation from the warring factions, a clear statement on a solution and an agreement that the troops would have an international mandate through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
Major's aides said he fears that a European peacekeeping force could get bogged down in Yugoslavia unless its objectives were clearly defined.
Lord Carrington, the former British foreign secretary appointed by the European Community to act as a peacemaker in Yugoslavia, appeared to be pessimistic about the prospects for a lasting settlement. But he said he will wait another day before deciding whether the cease-fire had broken down. He said there is no point in negotiating another truce if the current one cannot hold. "In the end," he said, "it is up to the people themselves to stop the violence."
Carrington said the presidents of Serbia and Croatia and the federal army chiefs who signed the cease-fire Tuesday understood his warning that the agreement could be the last chance for peace.
As for sending in a peacekeeping force, he declared: "I cannot see an armed intervention by the European Community or anybody else."
The Dutch government, the current holder of the 12-member EC presidency, has suggested sending a European peacekeeping force to Yugoslavia. Dutch officials said they could envisage sending up to 30,000 troops.
The Dutch have been supported by the Germans. But Major has noted that the Germans would not provide any troops.
The issue will be debated today during a meeting of EC foreign secretaries in The Hague. That session will be followed by a gathering of the defense ministers of the nine-nation Western European Union, a grouping that deals with defense-related matters.