Yugoslav Army Driving on Dubrovnik, 2 Other Cities : Civil war: Military brushes aside offer by Croatian president to lift the blockade of army facilities.
The Yugoslav army battled Wednesday to claim some of the biggest military prizes in secessionist Croatia--the Adriatic port of Dubrovnik and the eastern strongholds of Vukovar and Vinkovci.
As his troops fought the army and Serb insurgents, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman sought a new truce, offering to lift blockades of army facilities in his republic if the Yugoslav military held its fire.
But generals of the Serbian-dominated army, angered by what they said was Croatia’s refusal to honor a past cease-fire, appeared in no mood to talk.
“Words will not be trusted any more,” the army said in a statement issued hours before Tudjman made his offer during a visit to Italy to seek support for Croatia. The republic declared independence June 25, but has not been recognized by any major European power.
Croatia radio said Tudjman suggested both sides stop fighting at 4 a.m. today. There was no immediate army response.
The radio also broadcast a letter reportedly sent by Tudjman to President Bush, saying Croatia is under “all-out attack” and appealing for foreign peacekeepers.
The army’s push seemed dictated by increasing exasperation with the blockades and the need to strike before its effectiveness is further eroded.
Thousands of recruits have deserted in recent months, and morale has worsened as the Croatian campaign drags on. Heavy fighting into the winter would hamper the army, which relies more on heavy equipment than do the Croats.
Many ethnic Serbs in Croatia, who account for 12% of the republic’s 4.75 million people, say they want to remain part of Yugoslavia rather than be citizens of an independent Croatia. They are supported by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and some of the army’s generals.
Fighting intensified Monday, when the army, accusing Croatian militias of violating a nine-day-old cease-fire, launched an offensive against key Croatian cities.
Early Wednesday, the army issued a new warning to Croatian authorities that it would not tolerate blockades and attacks on military barracks.
The blockades, which Croatian forces began several weeks ago, have forced many soldiers to surrender and gained badly needed military equipment for Croatia. But they also have drawn the army--which Croatia had already accused of helping Serb insurgents--more directly into the fighting.
More than 600 people have been killed in Croatia since the fighting began.
Yugoslavia’s Tanjug news agency said army troops are in control of Slano, 12 miles north of Dubrovnik, and other soldiers are advancing on the port city from the south.
Reports from Serbian and Croatian media gave differing casualty figures, as they have throughout the war. Belgrade TV said 10 soldiers died, while Tanjug said at least two civilians died and 49 were wounded.
Belgrade TV said five people were killed and 11 wounded in Osijek, the center of the Slavonia region in eastern Croatia that has been the scene of the most fighting since July.
Zagreb radio reported one dead and 27 wounded--most of them civilians--in fierce fighting in Vukovar, with the army using tanks and multi-barreled rocket launchers.
Dubrovnik is famed for maintaining independence over the centuries despite repeated attempts to subjugate it, giving the battle for the Adriatic city symbolic significance. No damage was reported by late Wednesday to its thick-walled old town of narrow cobblestoned streets.