Croats take revenge on Serbs by phone

Bad blood still runs deep in a town in no man's land, reports Adrian Bridge

Vukovar - A few years ago, the Serbs used threats and guns to drive Croats out of their homes, in the region surrounding Vukovar, in what was then eastern Croatia. Now, the boot is on the other foot. Hundreds of Serb families living in houses once occupied by Croats have been receiving threatening telephone calls from the former owners.

"We have been called several times in the middle of the night and told that our children will be killed, said Darko Kovacevic, a Serb who runs one of the little cluster of bars that have emerged from the debris on the main street of Vukovar. "Before the war, we Serbs and Croats did manage to get on, but now there is just too much bad blood."

It is difficult not to double-take when Miroslav Keravica, the Serb Mayor of Vukovar, outlines his vision of the town's future. Speaking just yards from scenes of the worst destruction seen in Europe since the Second World War, he declares his aim to help create a "genuinely multi-ethnic society" and a town whose doors will be "open to all".

Before the war between Croatia and Serbia in 1991, Vukovar was a prosperous town with a mixed population.

But the scars of battle run deep, and for many of those involved - particularly in the siege of Vukovar itself - the memories are still far too painful for talk of reconciliation.

"The first Croat to come back to this town will be dead. I personally will pull the trigger," said Slobodan Vindik, a Serb veteran of the 1991 conflict in which 90 per cent of Vukovar was destroyed by besieging Serb paramilitaries and the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, and which ended with some 80,000 Croats being forced to flee after Vukovar and the entire eastern Slavonia region fell into Serb hands.

Under the terms of an agreement hammered out alongside the Dayton peace accords last November, eastern S1avonia, the last slice of Croatian territory still held by rebel Serbs, is to be reincorporated into Croatia following a transitional period under a United Nations military authority.

The plan also envisages the return of all the Croats expelled following the 1991 fighting, ideally in conjunction with the return of the tens of thousands of Serbs who fled to eastern Slavonia from other parts of Croatia over the past five years.

Officials with the 5,000-strong UN force based in Vukovar acknowledge that it is a daunting task, but insist they wish to prevent a re-run of what happened last year when Croat forces retook the Krajina enclave, sparking a mass exodus of Serbs. "We are slowly trying to rebuild confidence ... and to retain the multi-ethnic character of the region," said Jacques Klein, the American head of the UN transitional authority.

Since establishing their headquarters in Vukovar earlier this year, the UN forces point to a number of successes, most strikingly the removal of all heavy artillery from the region, the demobilisation of more than 10,000 men-in-arms and the peaceful takeover of the oil fields close to Vukovar, previously held by a Serb militia.

In addition, telephone connections with Croatia proper have been restored, as have postal services and - despite the fact that borders are not yet properly open - rail and road links. Serbs and Croats, moreover, have been jointly attending police training courses.

Mutual suspicions abound. Local Serb leaders holding positions in what they still term the "Republic of Serbian Krajina" are horrified at the prospect of the transfer of power to Zagreb and are set to appeal for a one year extension of the UN's 12-month mandate in the region, set to expire in January.

Some Serbs recently staged a street protest in Vukovar to press demands for substantial autonomy in any future Croatian state - including the rights to retain their own flag, currency and anthem. Such talk is a red rag to Zagreb, which for its part is pressing for the earliest possible transfer of sovereignty. In theory, that could be as soon as January, one month after the staging of local elections, which are themselves a source of friction between the two main sides. In practice, the UN forces are likely to remain in place for some time to come.

"With the UN here we feel we have some kind of protection" said Nikola Pajie, a 60-year-old Serb who sells his home-grown pears in the Vukovar market place. "Maybe we could all live together again but we Serbs are very worried about the future. It all depends on how the Croats behave when they take over."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate