Serb rockets sow terror in streets of Zagreb

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The Independent Online
Five people died and more than 100 were wounded yesterday when the centre of Zagreb was hit by five or six rockets carrying cluster bombs. The attacks damaged houses, a tram and burned dozens of cars. Bloodstains mixed with glass shards from broken windows, and the covered bodies of the dead lay on a street near Zagreb's twin-spired cathedral.

Hours after the Serb attack, Croatia announced a successful end to its offensive against the secessionist Krajina Serbs, but UN officials seeking desperately to broker peace talks fear the Serbs will retaliate further.

A UN spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said the Croatian offensive was a "major blow" that had "wrecked very many months of efforts" by the UN "to restore confidence on both sides". He told reporters: "There is a very strong chance there will be a high price paid for having tried to reach [Zagreb's] objectives."

Adding to fears of a wider conflict, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, said he no longer felt obliged to stand by any commitments to the UN.

But President Slobodan Milosevic, of Serbia, whose support would be vital to any combined Serb offensives against Zagreb and Sarajevo, remained silent. The only reaction from Belgrade was a statement on Monday deploring the Croatian attack.

Sporadic shooting continued last night around the town of Okucani, which fell to the Croats in the afternoon, while in Pakrac rebel Serb officer commanding about 600 soldiers agreed to surrender. "The police and Croatian army action aimed at reopening the highway and railway line in the occupied Croatian territories of western Slavonia is over," a government statement said. UN officials are concerned the Serbs will disagree. "There have to be doubts about what the Serb reaction will be," Chris Gunness, a UN spokesman, said last night.

"We saw a pretty audacious attack on the centre of Zagreb, that was clearly aimed at civilians. We're waiting to see exactly what they are going to do on the battlefield. We are still hoping we can bring the two sides together." Talks scheduled yesterday at Zagreb airport were called off after Serb rockets landed near by.

The Orkan rockets that landed in Zagreb centre, each armed with 280 canisters filled with shrapnel, prompted scenes reminiscent of the war in 1991.

Peter Galbraith, the US ambassador, responded angrily. "We're absolutely certain that these explosions were caused by Orkans fired from multiple launchers [by Serbs]. We heard one large explosion and a series of small explosions," he said. "I had pieces of a rocket and cluster bomb in my hand. This was an outrageous and disproportionate response to the Croatian action, designed to kill as many civilians as possible."

Croatia said six people were killed by Serb shelling of Sisak, but there were no reports of casualties from Karlovac, a front-line town that was also hit.