Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`The World Is Watching' Treatment of Serb Captives

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`The World Is Watching' Treatment of Serb Captives

Article excerpt

Croatia paraded hundreds of healthy-looking captives before television cameras Friday, trying to refute charges that it was mistreating Serbs taken prisoner in this week's offensive.

Serbian leaders have alleged widespread atrocities against captured Serbs, but the charges have not been verified.

International observers warned that the resumption of full-scale war could hinge on the welfare of Serbian prisoners.

"The world is watching," said U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, adding that the future of Croatia "would depend very much on how Croatia treats the Serbs."

The Croats seemed to be trying to avoid even the appearance of a repetition of events of the Nazi occupation in World War II when a Croatian fascist puppet dictatorship tortured and killed thousands of Serbs, Muslims and Jews. It was an episode other Yugoslavs have not forgotten.

Croatian state television on Friday sought to show Croatian restraint after its military successes of the past four days. Rebel Serbian forces in Pakrac surrendered Thursday after a brief Croatian offensive. The town had been divided since 1991, when Serbs opposed to Croatian secession from Yugoslavia captured a third of the republic.

Viewers saw police patting smiling Serbian children on the head, while others escorted men into a building for questioning.

The captives were among about 5,000 Serbs, most of them civilians, who surrendered Thursday in Pakrac, a Serbian enclave in Croatia.

Croatian authorities said that children and men over 60 would be released Friday evening and that only Serbian leaders would be held and prosecuted as war criminals.

One captive, Vukasin Mihaljevic, 40, said that some individual Croatian soldiers were initially belligerent but that commanders sternly ordered that all Serbs be treated well. "We were not maltreated, beaten, anything," Mihaljevic said.

In Pakrac, Milica Pletikapa, a Serb, said Croatian "police are behaving very well, but we're afraid of the army."

Milan Martic, a leader of Serbs in Croatia, claimed that corpses of adults and children had been seen floating down the Sava River, which winds through the captured territory, known as Western Slavonia. …

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