Tudjman weighs risk of wider war

CROATIAN AMBITIONS : KRAJINA AFTERMATH

Despite troop movements by both sides, it seems unlikely that Croatia will risk a war with Serbia, hard on the heels of its success in recapturing most of the Krajina region.

A Serbian tank division was reported yesterday to be moving on the border of the Serb-controlled area of eastern Slavonia in the far east of Croatia. The Croatian government has said it has no intention of ceding eastern Slavonia to Serbia, but the Croatian claim to the area is recent and may be negotiable.

The Croat defence of Vukovar, a major town in the area, from August to November 1991 against great odds, has become a widespread source of national pride in Croatia. But before the 1990 elections President Franjo Tudjman indicated that eastern Slavonia was not part of his vision of Croatia. Popular sentiment suggests the Croats will fight to recover control of the area: realpolitik suggests that they are not so concerned.

Eastern Slavonia contains oil fields and some of the richest agricultural land in the former Yugoslavia. Until the end of the Second World War it was part of Vojvodina, not Croatia. Thus, when President Tudjman said, on several occasions, that he envisaged a Croatia within its 1939 boundaries, he implied eastern Slavonia need not be included.

The area is of great potential strategic importance to Serbia because control of it means commanding both banks of the Danube. During the 1991 war two important bridges over the Danube, at Batina and Bilok, near Vukovar, were not destroyed by the Croatian Army. Drago Hedl, a Croatian editor of the Balkan War Report and an authority on the region, said that had given rise to rumours of a deal under which President Tudjman was ready to exchange eastern Slavonia for parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But the dynamics of the 1991 war between Serbia and Croatia may have upset his plans. The three-month siege in the autumn of 1991 pitted fewer than 2,000 Croat soldiers against vastly superior forces of the mainly Serb Yugoslav National Army. They held on for three months, with an estimated 6,000 civilian deaths in Vukovar. Claims of 30,000 Serbcasualties are as implausible as those of medieval battles but Vukovar has entered modern Croatian folklore and in many towns thoroughfares have been renamed Vukovar Street.

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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