Croats build up force in Slavonia

Click to follow
CROATIA and Serbia were eyeball-to-eyeball yesterday as both reinforced their lines in eastern Slavonia near the town of Vukovar, reduced to rubble by the Yugoslav army in 1991 and the most potent symbol of the Croatian war.

The Croatian army has moved several thousand men, backed by tanks and heavy artillery, into the UN-patrolled zone of separation at access points. The UN has reports of 27 Yugoslav tanks and 16 heavy guns moving to within 13 miles of the border, and thousands of civilians were evacuated from front-line villages.

Apart from an outbreak of shooting near Gora, in Serb-held territory south-west of Zagreb, the country has been relatively quiet. The fear is that any further Croatian incursions, particularly in eastern Slavonia, which Belgrade regards as the main prize of the war, could spark a major battle with Serbia.

Although the UN has no total for the number of refugees on the move, a spokeswoman said there were 3,000 displaced people at one school alone, suggesting that evacuations are taking place on a large scale.

"Both sides are still moving weapons and people into key areas, particularly the Croatian army," Leah Melnick, a UN spokeswoman, said yesterday. Several UN observation posts along the line around Sectors North and South, the largest Serb-held area, are surrounded by Croatian soldiers.

In Bosnia, exchanges of artillery continued along the northern confrontation line, around the town of Gradacac.

Croatia on march, page 15