Six Serb rockets crashed into Zagreb yesterday killing one person and wounding 50, including one Briton, four hours before a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations between the Croatian government and secessionist Serbs came into effect.
The Orkan rockets, fired, for the second day running, from a Serb-held area 25 miles south-west of Zagreb, caused panic and a general alert in the Croatian capital. One policeman was killed when a bomblet filled with shrapnel fell from a tree and exploded as he tried to defuse another of the lethal devices scattered from a warhead that landed close to the children's hospital.
Among those hurt was Mark Bolden, a 27-year-old Briton, rehearsing with the Croatian national ballet company, when part of a missile crashed through the roof. He was taken to hospital with abdominal injuries caused by shrapnel and underwent surgery last night.
The explosions sent residents scurrying for cover and shattered dozens of car windows. UN military officials said the warheads, which explode in the air and scatter 280 canisters, each armed with 300 bomblets, are designed to wound people, not buildings.
"I had just walked past when an explosion knocked me to the ground," said Maria Baric, a blonde woman standing on the steps of the Ethnographic Museum shortly after the attack. "I stood up, but fell down again from the shock. My hair was full of dust and stones, but I'm alive, thank God. I feel born again."
The streets around were filled with cars double-parked or pulled roughly on to the pavement to allow fire-engines and police access, their windows shattered and tyres flattened by the blast. "I'm not afraid, but I'm very angry," Ms Baric said.
The attack was also condemned by the US Ambassador, Peter Galbraith, as "barbaric". Rocketing the city during the lunch-break "was intended with one sole, single purpose: to kill as many people as possible", Mr Galbraith said, visiting injured in Zagreb children's hospital.
President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia warned of retaliation if Zagreb was attacked again. "If such a criminal attack is conducted only once again, Croatia will undertake most decisive steps," he said on national television, trumpeting this week's offensive as "a victory of extraordinary importance".
Yasushi Akashi, the UN envoy, announced a cessation of hostilities, accompanied by an effective Serb surrender of western Slavonia, starting at 4pm local time. Under the agreement, Serb civilians and soldiers - bearing personal side arms only - who wish to leave western Slavonia will be escorted to Serb-held northern Bosnia by the UN. The Serb troops who lost the towns of Pakrac and Okucani, as well as control of an 18-mile stretch of the Zagreb-to-Belgrade motorway, are due to begin their exodus tomorrow. The UN will police their departure, and its refugee agency is considering how best to help the thousands of people displaced - probably for good - from their homes.
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