The military commanders fighting the savage civil war in Croatia agreed Thursday to stop fighting within 24 hours, paving the way for dispatch of up to 10,000 U.N. peacekeepers to Yugoslavia.
The agreement to halt Europe's bloodiest fighting since World War II followed 14 truces that were shattered within hours of being reached.
But the latest accord appeared to have a decent chance of being honored because local field commanders find it "fully acceptable," said U.N. envoy Cyrus R. Vance, the broker of the truce. He called it "an important step forward."
It is scheduled to take hold today at 6 p.m. (9 a.m. PST).
All the major players in the Yugoslav crisis seek the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers, and that will only take place if fighting stops. Vance said that Serb irregulars, blamed for breaking previous truces, agreed to abide by this one.
Thousands of people have been killed since Croatia declared independence on June 25, 1991, setting off an increasingly fierce war against the Serb-dominated federal army and Serbian irregulars. More than a third of Croatia has been captured by the Yugoslav army since the fighting began.
The Serbs said they dreaded what would befall the 600,000 ethnic Serbs there if Croatia became independent. The Croats said the Serbs were using fears of repression as a pretext to create a "Greater Serbia" out of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. The Balkan federation of 24 million people contained six republics and two Serb-dominated autonomous provinces
Gen. Andrija Raseta signed the cease-fire for the federal army on Thursday and Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak for the Croats, Vance said.
Susak and Vance both said they were more optimistic than before because the latest agreement binds both sides not to return fire if fired upon, but to talk to each other if the truce is broken.
All sides have appeared at times to lose control over troops in the field. Thursday's agreement provides for liaison and monitoring of the truce, points Vance described as "absolutely essential if we are to make sure that this is different" from past cease-fires.
As the accord was announced in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, new reports came from Croatian Radio of air attacks around the northern Adriatic ports of Rijeka and Zadar, and in half a dozen other areas across the Croatian combat zone.