Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Croatia Mounts Major Attack Forces of Rebel Serbs Defend Their Capital; Peacekeeper Is Killed

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Croatia Mounts Major Attack Forces of Rebel Serbs Defend Their Capital; Peacekeeper Is Killed

Article excerpt

Ignoring pleas to avoid all-out war, Croatia launched a massive attack Friday on breakaway Serbs, bombarding rebel towns and shelling U.N. peacekeepers who refused to get out of the way.

The thrust to retake Serbian-held land - after almost four years of a shaky truce - threatened to touch off the worst fighting in the Balkans since World War II.

Croatian troops claimed advances on front lines across Serbian-held territory, but the Serbs resisted a massive government bombardment of Knin, their self-proclaimed capital.

NATO warned that attacks on U.N. peacekeepers would be met with airstrikes. But it did not respond when one Danish peacekeeper was killed and two Poles were wounded in attacks on U.N. posts.

NATO warplanes fired two missiles at a Serbian radar site after the planes were threatened, said Capt. Jim Mitchell, a NATO spokesman.

Knin shook under an artillery barrage that began at dawn and continued all day. Flames licked through buildings, and streets were deserted except for the occasional car loaded with civilians fleeing in panic.

By Friday night, thousands of Serbian refugees in cars, tractors and trucks, some with cattle, were fleeing for Serbian-held territory in neighboring Bosnia.

More than 1,500 shells fell on Knin, said Col. Andrew Leslie, commander of the U.N. peacekeepers in the rebel stronghold. He spoke of "serious loss of civilian life" in the town, 120 miles south of Zagreb. By evening, U.N. officials reported that Croatian troops were breaching defense lines, but there were no reports that the Croats had entered the town itself. The Serbs asserted that their lines around Knin and elsewhere generally had held.

Mitchell, the NATO spokesman, said two U.S. Navy EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft, flying from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Adriatic, had fired two missiles at a Croatian Serbian radar site near Knin. The attack took place after the radar site "painted" the aircraft, which was flying overhead to provide support to U.N. peacekeepers if needed, Mitchell said.

At the White House, President Bill Clinton expressed concern that the conflict would spread but stopped short of condemning the Croatian offensive. …

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