VARAZDIN, Yugoslavia -- While a cease-fire generally held across Croatia yesterday, the forces of the embattled breakaway republic were busy distributing a haul of tanks, armored personnel carriers and stocks of weapons abandoned over the weekend by federal army troops.
The federal troops departed hastily Sunday, forced by the terms of their withdrawal to change into civilian clothes on the lawn of their barracks, leaving their pants and boots soaking in a steady rain, before boarding buses for home.
The stores of armor and weapons they left behind -- including 50 tanks and 60 armored vehicles, tons of shoulder-held anti-tank weapons, field guns and anti-aircraft guns -- were already being sent south yesterday. They could help even the military balance in a civil war that has claimed more than 500 lives.
Despite a few scattered violations of the truce, which took effect Sunday afternoon, optimism was growing among Yugoslav and European officials that the latest cease-fire would last.
Tanks of the Serb-dominated federal army and Croatian militias dueled yesterday for strategic towns, the Associated Press reported.
A fierce fight was reported under way around the central Croatian towns of Nova Gradiska and Okucani. "A real pitched battle is going on in which the occupying army is trying to overrun the village with its tanks and create an open line toward the north," said Zagreb radio, monitored in London by the British Broadcasting Corp.
But the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said that the fighting seemed to be ebbing, except for sporadic clashes in the eastern region of Slavonia.
Britain's Lord Carrington announced that a European Community-sponsored peace conference would resume Thursday in The Hague, Netherlands, with a meeting for all the parties to the conflict. Lord Carrington engineered a cease-fire last week, which fell apart in only a few hours.
Croatian officials, meanwhile, were clearly elated with the payoff of a decision taken Sept. 14 to blockade the 32 federal military installations scattered across the republic, a move that brought Croatia's first limited military successes after weeks of pounding by Serbian guerrillas and the federal army.
"Croatia has shown its teeth, and a completely new relation of forceshas been established," Mario Nobilo, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's top adviser, said yesterday when asked if he thought the truce would hold.
"The only language that [Serbian President] Slobodan Milosevic can understand is the language of force, and we have now shown that that will no longer be effective," Mr. Nobilo said.
In Varazdin, the Croatian national guard blockade of two army installations began Sept. 14.
The smaller of the two surrendered last Thursday. The larger, the sprawling headquarters of the army's 32nd Tank Brigade, held out for nine days but surrendered Sunday morning after negotiations between the unit's commander, Col. Berislav Popov, and local officials and national guard units.
For the first time in nine days, life in the Croatian capital of Zagreb returned to some semblance of normality yesterday morning, with shops and business opened and traffic choking the streets. A nine-day blackout was ended Sunday night, and
street lights were turned on again.