Croats attack Serbs in Croatia

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The Independent Online
CROATIAN troops marched across United Nations lines into Serb-held territory yesterday in the worst upsurge of fighting in Croatia since UN forces imposed a truce between the warring sides.

The fighting provoked Serb- held Krajina, in south-west Croatia, to ask Belgrade for military help, and to declare a state of emergency. It was an ominous start to a new round of Bosnian peace talks in Geneva, which Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, and Croatia's leader, Franjo Tudjman, are expected to attend.

Serbian leaders in Krajina claimed 6,000 Croatian troops attacked their frontline positions at the Maslenica bridge, which links north and south Croatia, and at Zemunik airport, near the Croat- held coastal city of Zadar.

But there was no confirmation that UN peace-keepers in Krajina were killed or were fighting the Croats alongside the Serbs, as the Krajina authorities claimed.

The two battle zones lie inside the so-called 'pink zone', on the edge of Krajina. Under the UN peace plan for the republic, the 'pink zone' should have been handed back to the Croatian authorities, but the local Serbs are refusing to give it up.

Milan Martic, the Krajina military chief, handed the UN an ultimatum to halt the Croatian offensive immediately, and mobilised Serbian troops in parts of Krajina. At the same time, the Krajina government sent an appeal to the Yugoslav authorities in Belgrade, reminding them of their earlier pledge to send military help if Croatian Serbs were attacked.

A UN spokeswoman in Zagreb confirmed Croats had launched attacks in at least two places. A Croatian government minister, Zdravko Zidovac, admitted Croatian forces were moving towards the Maslenica bridge, which forms the only land link between northern Croatia and the Dalmatian ports of Split and Dubrovnik.

Belgrade Radio said the front line had not altered an inch, adding that Serbs from frontline villages in Krajina had fled to safety in the mountainous hinterland. They claimed that local Serbian troops were 'advancing to rescue encircled United Nations forces'.

A renewal of hostilities in Croatia has long been expected by Western diplomats in former Yugoslavia and by the UN authorities. The UN peace plan for Croatia, drawn up by Cyrus Vance at the beginning of last year, has failed in almost all its objectives, raising tensions between the UN and Croatia to boiling point.

Under the peace plan, Krajina was to be demilitarised, refugees were to return to their homes, the lands in 'pink zone' were to be handed back to Croatia, and the rest of Krajina was to accept UN- supervised autonomy. A year on, Krajina is not demilitarised, the 'pink zone' remains under Serbian control, and no Croatian refugees have been able to return.

(Map omitted)