Croatia Admits Serb Civilians Were Killed

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The Croatian government acknowledged Monday that Serbian civilians were found slain in a village it had recaptured. But it pointedly refrained from blaming its soldiers, accused by the United Nations of atrocities.

A brief Interior Ministry statement said nine elderly Serbs were found killed in the village of Varivode, 125 miles southwest of Zagreb, the capital. U.N. officials said at least seven more Serbs from the village were missing.

A Croatian human rights group said in a report released Sunday that 12 Serbs, all 60 to 85 years old, were slain Thursday in Varivode. The report said that three more Serbs are missing.


The government has been under increasing pressure to react to accounts of atrocities committed by Croatian troops during and after their blitz in early August to retake most of the territory held by Serbian rebels since a 1991 war between the Croats and the Croatian Serbs.

More than 180,000 Serbs fled the Croatian offensive. The United Nations estimates that fewer than 2,500 Serbs remain in the recaptured area, known as the Krajina.

International human rights groups and European Union monitors have cited many cases of murder and intimidation of Serbs and systematic destruction of thousands of houses by Croatian soldiers during and since the offensive.

The United Nations and other groups have charged that such acts were conducted with the tacit sanction of Croatian authorities. Although 400 soldiers have been arrested for looting and arson, the government has insisted that they were random acts and has not acknowledged the slaying of civilians.

Croatian officials said that they first learned about the killings in Varivode on Friday, when a civilian who wanted to visit his relatives in the village found four bodies.

The police later found that the nine civilians had been shot to death, the ministry said in a brief statement, adding only that the case is under investigation.

It did not suggest who was responsible for the killings.