Croatia pledges not to attack eastern Slavonia

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The Independent Online
Despite a build-up of troops on the borders of eastern Slavonia yesterday, Croatia's UN envoy insisted that Croatia would not attack the region.

Following Zagreb's swift recapture of most of rebel-Serb held Krajina, there has been international concern that a Croatian attempt to capture eastern Slavonia, on the border with Serbia, could ignite a much wider conflict with Belgrade.

"It is not the intention of my government to launch an offensive in Sector East, because that is rather sensitive," Mario Nobilo said, using the UN designation for the region. "It is our intention to put this remaining occupied sector of Croatia into the whole peace package."

Mr Nobilo had been called in by the UN Security Council President, Nugroho Wisnumurti of Indonesia, to be told of the council's concerns stemming from Croatia's capture over the weekend of Krajina, resulting in a huge exodus of Serb refugees to Bosnia and Serbia.

Meanwhile relations between Britain and the United States over the former Yugoslavia were severely strained last night after the US ambassador to Zagreb dismissed the flight of up to 200,000 Serbs as different from ethnic cleansing. Peter Galbraith, in a BBC radio interview, said ethnic cleansing was only carried out by Serbs. "Ethnic cleansing is a practice sponsored by the leadership in Belgrade, carried out by the Bosnian Serbs and also by the Croatian Serbs, of forcibly expelling the local population whether it was Muslim or Croat using terror tactics," he said.

The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, said on Monday that the exodus of Serbs from the Krajina, where they lived for centuries, amounted to ethnic cleansing.

Red Cross officials, United Nations representatives andWestern diplomats rejected Mr Galbraith's assessment. One ambassador described the remark as "breathtaking".

A UN official said Ukrainian peace-keepers had reported that Bosnian Muslim forces were seen entering six villages where Serb houses were set alight. The peace-keepers heard small arms fire followed by screaming. A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said "it looks like ... Krajina is being emptied".

The political and diplomatic effect of Mr Galbraith's statement was to highlight the gulf between the US and Britain and France over what should happen next in the Balkans.