Balkan War Rips Into Croat Capital

Serb cluster bombs strike Zagreb again

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

'HE was picking up his wife,'' Andrew Hundic says, as he stands in front of the shrapnel-pocked front of his clothing store. ''The projectile went through the windshield and exploded inside his car. We went outside to help him, but he was dead.''

The capital city had been sheltered from the violence that has beset the former Yugoslavia. Now it is reeling in shock, confusion, and anger. A half-dozen Croatian Serb rockets killed five and wounded 121 here Tuesday, prompting calls for revenge. At least three more rockets landed here yesterday, killing one and wounding 43. Some were ballet dancers at the arts academy.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced Tuesday that a Croatian offensive on a rebel Serb-controlled highway had ended. But Western diplomats say the retaliatory cluster-bomb attacks on Zagreb are pressuring him to renew fighting and risk igniting an all-out Balkan war.

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''It's obvious that the only purpose of dropping one of these in the center of a European city is to kill as many people as possible,'' says Peter Galbraith, US ambassador to Croatia. ''You've had an attack on your capital city, in the center of it. It's very, very hard to resist [responding].''

Across the city, eyewitnesses described panicked rescue attempts and an overwhelming disbelief that the attacks had taken place. Hundreds of residents toured the devastated areas, touching the dozens of small craters left by the cluster bombs and staring in disbelief at the damage.

The carnage was worst in the area around Mr. Hundic's store on Vlaska street. Three people died and dozens were wounded on the busy commercial strip filled with a mix of posh new clothing stores, small shops, and restaurants.

Police said a rocket hit the upper floors of a large building in the area midmorning Tuesday. The generally inaccurate rocket -- a Soviet-built Orkan model with a 30-mile range -- released dozens of smaller shrapnel-filled cluster bombs before impact.

The smaller bombs exploded at random intervals across a nearly two-block area, shattering windows and ripping holes in metal door frames and car roofs.

Renata Lucic, a clerk in an office on bomb-damaged Vlaska Street, called for revenge attacks on the Croatian Serbs' self-declared capital of Knin in the Krajina region of Croatia and on the capital of Serbia, as she and her two young sons watched her bombed-out car be towed away.

''The world will push us to do nothing, but I think [Tudjman] should do this to Knin or the center of Belgrade,'' Ms. Lucic says.

Rockets also hit an empty schoolyard and two city streets near the United States Embassy. Other rockets landed near the city airport, reportedly killing one man in his home. A massive United Nations logistical base located in the area was not hit.

The attack was the most devastating on Zagreb since ethnic Serbs backed by neighboring Serbia rebelled against Croatia's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The outskirts of Zagreb were rocketed during that six-month war that left more than 10,000 dead and 30 percent of Croatia under the control of a self-declared ethnic Serb state known as ''Serbian Krajina.''

In the worst fighting since the 1992 truce, Croat forces quickly captured a strategic 20-mile stretch of highway in eastern Croatia on Monday and Tuesday. Whether the Croatian Serbs will launch another rocket attack or Croatia will retaliate without NATO or UN approval is unclear.

Diplomats warn that an all-out war could lead to Serbia -- the most militarily powerful former Yugoslav republic -- again coming to the aid of Serbs in Croatia.

''The Croats say they've accomplished their goals, and this could be the end of it, but that's the optimistic interpretation,'' warns Ambassador Galbraith. ''This also could lead to the worst war in Europe in 50 years.''

Croat victims of the rocket attack say it is the final straw and that Croatia should now take back the remaining Serb-held areas by force. They criticized President Tudjman for wasting time by participating in long-running US-backed negotiations for the peaceful reintegration of Serb areas.

''The problem is the politicians on both sides are telling us one thing and doing another,'' Hundic says. ''People accept that we must [fight]. It's been three or four years, and they've just been speaking and talking and negotiating and nothing happens.''

But other Croat victims of the attack predicted Tudjman will take political advantage of the bomb attacks.

''I think he will propose elections three days after today,'' says Josip, a Croat whose apartment building was hit by rockets and who gave a false name because he fears government reprisal. ''With this and [the taking back of] Western Slavonia, he's going to win easily.''

Although members of his family narrowly escaped being killed by the Serb rockets, Josip blamed nationalist leaders on both sides and Western inaction for the continued fighting.

He criticized Tudjman for helping start the war by firing ethnic Serbs from certain jobs after Croatia declared independence in 1991, fueling historical Serb fears of ethnic persecution. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were killed by a pro-Nazi Croat regime that ruled most of the former Yugoslavia during World War II.

Josip and his brother Darko, who fought in the 1991 war and also gave a false name, say Croatia has a last opportunity to peacefully reintegrate the Serb-held region into the country. Several Western proposals for granting partial autonomy to Serbs have been suggested.

''If they do the right things with the territories we have captured, it will ... make the other Serbs think. Maybe with all the local authority and local judges the [Serbs] will rejoin Croatia,'' Darko says. ''Otherwise, there is no other solution than war.''

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