Editor held as Croatia cracks down on critics: Move to push prominent journalist into military service condemned by colleagues as Tudjman government intimidation

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CROATIAN authorities have seized the editor of the country's most prominent independent publication and are forcing him to do military service against his will, staff at the paper said yesterday. Viktor Ivancic, 33, chief editor of the Feral Tribune, was picked up on Wednesday by two policemen at his home in the Adriatic port of Split and was taken to the city's army barracks.

Mr Ivancic's colleagues described the move as an attempt by the government of President Franjo Tudjman to intimidate its critics. 'The way he was mobilised could be interpreted as the use of the army as an instrument of political pressure on the paper,' the Feral Tribune said in a statement.

Since coming to power in April 1990, Mr Tudjman's party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), has relentlessly extended its influence over the Croatian media. The party effectively controls Hina, the national news agency, as well as state television and radio. Privatisation laws have enabled HDZ-dominated groups to establish control over the main Croatian newspapers.

The Feral Tribune, renowned for its satirical content, published a montage on 28 December that showed Mr Tudjman and Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, in skimpy clothes. Such irreverence does not amuse HDZ propagandists, who have used the official media to portray Mr Tudjman as an almost saintly father of the Croatian nation.

Mr Ivancic is a Bosnian Croat who was born in Sarajevo. His staff said that the Croatian authorities had begun a campaign in the last two weeks to draft Bosnian Croats into the army and make them serve at the front in central Bosnia. Bosnian Muslim forces have inflicted a string of defeats on the Croats in central Bosnia in the last eight months, threatening Mr Tudjman's dream of uniting Croatia with a large slice of Bosnian territory.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, visited Zagreb on Wednesday and warned the government that sanctions might be imposed on Croatia for its role in the Bosnian war. Croatia officially denies sending its army into Bosnia, saying that only volunteers go there. But Lord Owen, the international mediator, and independent monitors of the war say there is overwhelming evidence that the Croatian army is fighting in Bosnia.

(Photograph omitted)