Croatia ignores UN order to withdraw from Krajina

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CROATIA shows no sign of obeying a UN Security Council resolution, passed on Monday night, calling on its forces to pull back from Serb-held regions in Croatia to points behind the previous ceasefire line. The resolution ordered Serbs to return stocks of heavy weapons seized from stores under UN control.

After meeting military chiefs, Franjo Tudjman, the President of Croatia, announced that Croatian troops would withdraw from the area only after police loyal to Zagreb had taken over, and Croatian rule was secured. 'Our military forces will pull back from the regions they have liberated if the Serb paramilitaries are disarmed, and if they return the heavy weapons which they took from stores under UN control,' he said.

In Croatia, despite international condemnation, the capture of the Maslenica bridge is a popular move, which will boost Mr Tudjman's fortunes in the run-up to elections. The Croatian media yesterday devoted most of their news to discussing the materials needed to rebuild the bridge. The Security Council condemnation cut little ice in Zagreb, as the Serbs are calling on the UN to expel Croatian forces from what they themselves recognise is a part of Croatia.

Mario Nobilo, Croatia's UN representative, denied Serbian charges of aggression and accused Belgrade of displaying territorial pretensions. He expressed regret for the deaths of two UN peace-keepers from France who were caught in the weekend crossfire.

In Belgrade, the official reaction has been relatively mild so far - prompting feverish speculation of a secret Serb- Croat deal over the Krajina enclave in Croatia. A Serbian army chief, General Andrija Biorcevic, head of the Novi Sad corps in northern Serbia, declared that Yugoslav forces were on battle alert but added that they would only act 'in case we are attacked'.

Serbian nationalists held a small but noisy demonstration outside the federal parliament in Belgrade, where they accused the rump Yugoslav army of treason for not intervening militarily. Busloads of volunteers set off from Belgrade for Krajina, answering an appeal for more fighters to shore up the beleaguered Serbs. Some notorious paramilitary leaders have responded to the call - among them is Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as 'Arkan', who set off earlier with his troops, known as 'the Tigers'.

In Knin, the capital of Krajina, reports of the imminent arrival of Arkan and his troops were not entirely welcome. Some Serbian leaders of Krajina fear that Arkan's shocking reputation - he topped a US list of suspected war criminals in Bosnia - could set back their cause. But Krajina's Serbian commanders were furious with the United Nations for not responding to the Croatian invasion of what was a 'UN-protected' zone. 'The people of Krajina would be dead today if they had listened to the UN chiefs,' fumed Moncilo Bogunovic, a Serbian commander from the town of Benkovac.

The Maslenica bridge, formerly under Serbian control inside the UN-protected zone, is a vital communications link in Croatia. Control by Serbian irregulars was a constant thorn in the side of Zagreb. Since the Serbs seized the bridge more than a year ago, Croats wishing to travel to the ports of Dubrovnik and Split have been forced to go by air or ship. UN brokered talks on reopening the bridge dragged on for a year, but got nowhere.

(Photograph omitted)