War in Croatia

Heavy fighting broke out in Krajina, Baranja and Slavonia in June 1991. The 180,000 member, 2000 tank Yugoslav People s Army, dominated by Serbian Communists, began to intervene on its own authority in support of Serbian irregulars under the pretext of halting ethnic violence. After European Community mediation, Croatia agreed to freeze its independence declaration for three months to avoid bloodshed.

In the three months following 25 June, a quarter of Croatia fell to Serbian militias and the Serb led Yugoslav People s Army. In September the Croatian government ordered a blockade of 32 federal military installations in the republic, lifting morale and gaining much needed military equipment. In response, the Yugoslav navy blockaded the Adriatic coast and laid siege to the strategic lown of Vukovar on the Danube.

In early October 1991 the federal army and Montenegrin militia moved against Dubrovnik to protest the ongoing blockade of their garrisons in Croatia, and on 7 October I he presidential palace in Zagreb was hit by lockets fired by Yugoslav air force jets in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Presi i lent Tudman. On 19 November, heroic Vukovar finally fell when the army culminated a bloody three month siege by concentrating tanks and 30, soldiers there. During six months of fighting in Croatia 10,000 people died, hundreds of thousands fled and lens of thousands of homes were destroyed.
In early December the United Nations special envoy, Cyrus Vance, began successful negotiations with Serbia over the deployment of a 14,000 member UN Pro lection Force in the Serb held ureas of Croatia. Beginning on 3 January 1992, a cease fire generally held. The federal army was allowed to withdraw from its buses inside Croatia without having to shamefully surrender its weapons and thus tensions diminished.

When the three month moratorium on independence expired on 8 October 1991, Croatia declared full independence. To fulfil u condition for EC (now EU) recognition, in December the Croatian Sabor belatedly amended its constitution to protect minority Roups and human rights. In January 1992 the hC, succumbing to strong pressure from Germany, recognised Croatia. This was followed three months later by US recognition and in May 1992 Croatia was admitted to the UN.

The UN peace plan in Krajina was supposed to have led to the disarming of local Serb paramilitary formations, the repatria lion of refugees and the return of the region In Croatia. Instead, it only froze the existing situation and offered no permanent solution.
In January 1993 the Croatian army suddenly launched an offensive in southern Krajina, pushing the Serbs back as much as .4km in some areas and recapturing strategic points such as the site of the destroyed Maslenica bridge, Zemunik airport near Zadar and the Perucac hydroelectric dam in the hills between Split and Bosnia Hercegovina. The Krajina Serbs vowed never to accept rule from Zagreb and in June 1993 they voted overwhelmingly to join the Bosnian Serbs.
The self proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina held elections in December 1993, which no international body recognised as legitimate or fair. Meanwhile, continued ethnic cleansing left only about 900 Croats in Krajina out of an original population of 44,000. Although no further progress was made in implementing the Vance Peace Plan, the Krajina Serbs signed a comprehensive cease fire on 29 March 1994, which substantially reduced the violence in the region and established demilitarised zones of separation between the parties.
While world attention turned to the grim events unfolding in Bosnia Hercegovina, the Croatian government quietly began procuring arms from abroad. On 1 May 1995, the Croatian army and police entered occupied western Slavonia, east of Zagreb, and seized control of the region within days. The Krajina Serbs responded by shelling Zagreb in an attack that left seven people dead and 130 wounded. As the Croatian military consolidated its hold in western Slavonia, some 15,000 Serbs fled the region despite assurances from the Croatian government that they were safe from retribution.
Belgrade s silence throughout this campaign showed that the Krajina Serbs had lost the support of their Serbian sponsors, encouraging Croats to forge ahead. On 4 August the military launched a massive assault on the rebel Serb capital of Knin, pummelling it with shells, mortars and bombs. Outnumbered by two to one, the Serb army fled towards northern Bosnia, along with 150,000 civilians whose roots in the Krajina stretched back centuries. The military operation ended in days, but was followed by months of terror. Widespread looting and burning of Serb villages, and attacks upon the few remaining elderly Serbs, seemed designed to ensure the permanence of this huge population shift. Allegations of atrocities caught the attention of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the Hague. At the time of writing, two Croatian generals are facing extradition to the Hague on charges of war crimes committed against the ethnic Serb population during the 1991 95 war.

The Dayton Accord signed in Paris in December 1995 recognised Croatia s traditional borders and provided for the return of eastern Slavonia, which was effected in January 1998. The transition proceeded relatively smoothly with less violence than was expected, but the two populations still regard each other over a chasm of suspicion and hostility. The Serbs and Croats associate with each other as little as possible and clever political manoeuvring has largely barred Serbs from assuming a meaningful role in municipal government.

Although stability has returned to the country, a key provision of the agreement was the promise by the Croatian government to facilitate the return of Serbian refugees, a promise that is far from being fulfilled. Housing, local industry and agriculture in Slavonia and the Krajina were devastated by the 1990s war, making resettlement both costly and complicated. Although the central government in Zagreb has made the return of refugees a priority in accordance with the demands of the international community, its efforts have often been subverted by local authorities intent on maintaining the ethnic purity of their regions. In many cases, Croat refugees from Hercegovina have occupied houses abandoned by their Serb owners. Serbs intending to reclaim their property often face a tangle of bureaucratic obstacles in establishing a legal claim to their dwellings.



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