Killing that makes Croatia fit for Serbs: Marcus Tanner saw UN impotence in the face of 'ethnic cleansing'

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'THIS IS now the land of the Serbian people. And so it will stay for the next 1,000 years. If the Croats do not like it we will start a new war.' Borivoje Zivanovic, a Serb, was referring to Baranja, a zone in north-east Croatia overrun by the Serbs last year with the help of the old Yugoslav army. Now, it is theoretically under the control of the United Nations.

But Mr Zivanovic hardly sees it that way. As the self-styled mayor of Beli Manastir, Baranja's biggest town, he predicts a 1,000-year Serbian Reich in Baranja and is helping create what appears to be a hermetically sealed state under the impotent gaze of UN peace-keepers. The region's ethnic Croats and Hungarians are clearly not part of the plan.

In Bosnia, ethnic cleansing has been carried out in areas where the UN's writ has not run. But what is happening in Baranja - where the UN does have theoretical control - raises questions over the entire peace-keeping operation in Croatia. UN troops, finding themselves in a moral dilemma, are concretely assisting the policy of 'ethnic cleansing' for what they see as the best possible motives. If they do not help evacuate people who beg them to do precisely that, they say, those people may be killed.

More than 50 Hungarians and Croats have been murdered in recent weeks. No suspects have been arrested. Almost every Croatian church in the region has been blown up. No Catholic priests are tolerated. In this UN-protected zone, Croats and Hungarians have no protection against Serbs, who rob them, beat them, expel them from their homes or kill them. At the same time, the local authorities are busing in Bosnian Serb refugees to fill vacated Croatian or Hungarian homes. Once inside, the Serbs are not allowed out again.

The Belgian UN peace-keepers in Beli Manastir admit they are frustrated by the impunity with which the Serbs terrorise Baranja's Croats and Hungarians. Colonel Jean-Marie Jockin, the UN military chief in Baranja, said: 'Terrorist activities are going on. This means shooting people, beating, torture, robbery.'

He complained that the well-armed 'multi-purpose special police brigade', which took over after the Yugoslav army withdrew to Serbia, was interrogating Croatian children about whether their parents secretly tuned in to Croatian radio. Other UN soldiers, when they were guaranteed anonymity, were more specific about terrorism. 'It ranges from throwing stones to cutting throats,' a Belgian peace-keeper said. 'You try and get a Croat out of his house and if he won't go you kill him. If you steal something from a Croat in Baranja, you are not a criminal.'

The peace-keepers' hands are tied by the peace plan drawn up by Cyrus Vance, which places civilian affairs in UN zones in the hands of the Serb-installed officials. UN troops can only patrol. They cannot apprehend suspects. That remains the department of Mr Zivanovic and his police brigade. 'To control the terrorism we would need two guards for every Croatian or Hungarian house,' one peace-keeper said.

Meanwhile, the killings go on. An elderly Croatian couple by the name of Andric from a small village in Baranja were among the latest victims, killed on the night of 8 September. 'Mr Andric had his guts cut out and his wife had her head blown off,' Blandina Negga, a UN civil affairs co-ordinator in eastern Croatia, said. Ms Negga described the level of terrorism in UN zones as very high, adding that '99 per cent of the victims are non-Serbs. The pattern is threats, followed by bombings, followed by killing'.

The killings do not tell the whole story of Baranja's step-by-step 'ethnic cleansing'. Hundreds of Croats and Hungarians are assisted in their passage out of Baranja by the UN. The peace-keepers are not supposed to assist, let alone take part in 'ethnic cleansing'. But they said they had no choice. 'We are in a dilemma. What would you do if someone went down on their knees, begging you to help them leave? How would you feel if you said no, and later found out they were killed?'

Ms Negga linked the rise in terrorism to the busing into Baranja, mainly by night, of thousands of Serbian refugees from Bosnia and other parts of Croatia. The import of Bosnian Serbs at the request of the local Serbian authorities cannot be stopped by the UN. It forms part of a strategy aimed at permanently changing the demographic structure of Serb-occupied eastern Croatia, and ensuring that Croatian refugees can never return. Once in, the Serbs are allocated houses by the local authorities, whether or not Croats are still living in them, and jobs, often in the multi-purpose police brigade. The imported Serbs are not allowed to leave Baranja, even to visit Serbia, in case they jump ship. Only Croats and Hungarians are allowed out of the enclave.

Mr Zivanovic does not have a good word for the Belgian peace-keepers. 'They are worse than the Ustashe (Croatian fascists active during the Second World War). Only the swastika is missing.'

The only two Croats I found were an old couple who had halted near the Catholic church in Baranjsko Petrovo Selo, hoes in hand. Asked what benefit the UN presence brought them, they gave me a glassy smile and walked on.

The church is one of a handful in Baranja with a roof and four walls. Inside, the Serbs have made it unusable for worship. Everything is smashed. The huge marble altar has been wrenched from the wall and shattered. The interior is knee-deep in plaster, rubble and headless statues. On the nave, in Serbo-Croat, are the words: 'Enter in all ye who are tired and heavy laden, and I will refresh you.'

Beside the church, the UN has opened a field station. Opposite, some Serbs are opening a pizzeria, to ensure the peace-keepers do not run short of snacks.

(Photograph omitted)