Yugoslavia sends troops to quell Croatian riots

March 03, 1991|By New York Times News Service

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Yugoslovia's president sent federal army units to a small village in the republic of Croatia yesterday following reports of violent clashes between Croatian security forces and Serbian villagers who had seized the local police station.

There were conflicting reports about casualties. Belgrade radio quoted a reporter on the scene as saying that at least six people had been killed.

Croatia's Interior Ministry said no one had been hurt. All accounts agreed that shots had been fired.

A statement issued yesterday by Borisav Jovic, the Yugoslav president, made no mention of deaths but said the army had been deployed to prevent "the escalation of interethnic violence" in Pakrac, which is about 180 miles east of Belgrade.

The use of federal troops in Croatia is likely to fray further the tenuous ties binding together this nation of ethnically based republics.

It marks the first time that the army, whose officer corps is dominated by Serbs, has been used in Croatia, presumably to protect the Serbian minority there.

For the last several months, both Croatia and the republic of Slovenia in northern Yugoslavia have been edging toward a showdown with the federal government.

Nine days ago, the Croatian Parliament passed legislation invalidating federal laws, shortly after Slovenian lawmakers approved an even tougher measure.

Last month, Croatia and the army were at the brink of a confrontation when the republic balked at disarming its local security forces.

With the army poised to take the weapons by force, Croatia announced that it was disbanding the militia units. But recently, Serbian officials have contended that Croatia reneged and that the local forces have retained their arms.

Saturday night, Belgrade television showed a column of army personnel carriers rolling through Pakrac but had no confirmation of earlier reports of deaths.

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