Yugoslavs hold talks to address Croatian crisis

January 26, 1991|By Laura Silber | Laura Silber,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Yugoslav leaders held emergency talks yesterday aimed at combatting the mounting crisis between the western republics and the army.

Yugoslavia's collective head-of-state, the state presidency, made no progress in an emergency session last night to rule on the army's ultimatum on Croatia's paramilitary units.

As the meeting was under way, the Defense Ministry reported the arrest of several people who had "participated in the arming" of the paramilitary units in Croatia. The army issued a blunt warning to the rebel republic Wednesday saying that action would be taken if the republic's authorities did not disband its illegally armed units.

The army's sharpest warning to date raised fears in Croatia of military intervention in the republic.

About 50 tanks were sighted about 160 miles east of the republic's capital, Zagreb, according to the Croatian news agency HINA.

Concern about Yugoslav stability led the British government yesterday to warn "the Yugoslav government against any use of force in Croatia or Slovenia," reported Tanjug, the Yugoslav Press Agency.

In an address to Croatia's Parliament yesterday, Franjo Tudjman, the republic's president, who appealed to the West to safeguard democracy in Croatia, warned the state presidency that "any attempt to impose martial law in Croatia would be considered an occupation."

Mr. Tudjman abandoned the session for a summit in Belgrade with Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's president. The meeting is the first be

tween the leaders of the two biggest Yugoslav republics since free elections last year throughout the country.

The conflict among the six Yugoslav republics has come to a head as rhetoric threatens to erupt into unrest. Leaders from the western republics have accused Serbia's Socialist (formerly Communist) leadership and the army of using intimidation tactics in an attempt to preserve the country's federal structure. Croatia and Slovenia are seeking the transformation of the Yugoslav federation into a loose confederation of six sovereign states.

The Serbian-Croat summit follows a series of bilateral talks between the republics' leaders aimed at drawing a blueprint for Yugoslavia's future structure. In a meeting Thursday between Mr. Milosevic and Milan Kucan, Slovenia's president, Serbia's leader endorsed the western republic's right to self-determination.

But Mr. Kucan did not agree with Mr. Milosevic that if Yugoslavia's federal system is changed, Serbian borders must be extended to unite all Serbs. Slovenia, the most Westernized republic, held a referendum on independence last month.

Croatia's 600,000-strong Serbian minority, which is heavily armed, has called for autonomy within the republic. There is widespread fear among the country's population of 23.5 million that any change of the country's interior borders could cause civil war.

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