Mystery cargo of arms arrives in Yugoslavia Serbs, Croatians clash at border

July 26, 1991|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Special to The Sun

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- A huge quantity of arms and equipment that experts say is enough to "equip an army of 100,000 men" has arrived in the Yugoslav port city of Bar without papers showing where the lethal cargo originated and where it was to be delivered.

The shipment, which arrived last week aboard seven cargo vessels, has spurred intense speculation about its destination as Yugoslavia teetered on the possibility of an all-out war between Serbs and Croats, the Balkan nation's largest ethnic groups.

A government spokesman in Belgrade would not comment on the shipment, whose value is estimated to be hundreds of millions of dollars.

But Vojislav Perovic, director of Bar Transit, the company that the mysterious sender contracted to handle the unloading of the cargo, insisted that none of the arms would be used in Yugoslavia.

"We still do not know the final destination, but not one piece will be used against any Yugoslav," he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Perovic said that the shipment last week consisted of an estimated 15,000 tons of helicopters, speedboats, artillery, small arms and munitions and that another 15,000 to 20,000 tons of equipment and arms was expected soon.

Much of the speculation in Titograd, the capital of Montenegro, focused on efforts to create a Serbian ethnic guard. The creation of such a guard has been proposed by several leading Serbian politicians.

In the past 12 months, as Yugoslavia has been disintegrating along ethnic lines, arms have been smuggled into Yugoslavia mainly from Austria, Hungary and Singapore. Hungary secretly sold 30,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Croatia, while the Slovenes bought missiles and anti-tank weapons in Singapore.

Yesterday, Yugoslav army tanks shelled Croatian national guardsmen on the border between Croatia and rival Serbia, and Croatian officials and media said at least 18 militiamen and an army sergeant were killed. At least 27 militiamen also were wounded, news reports said.

The Croatian Information Ministry said it was the worst fighting to date involving its national guardsmen and the army. Croatia's defense minister, Sime Djodan, said in Zagreb that the republic was "preparing for a defensive war with all available means."

Croatia is seeking independence from the Yugoslav federation and accuses the Serb-dominated federal army of siding with armed Serb militants who live in the republic and oppose secession.

In separate incidents during the night, an army sergeant and two Croatian guardsmen were killed. Four Croatian guardsmen or policemen were wounded seriously in other fighting.

The latest fighting brought the death toll since Friday to at least 48 people killed in sectarian violence between the Roman Catholic Croats and the Christian Orthodox Serbs.

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