Doctors forgo 2nd Yugoslav mission

October 21, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- Despite a slight letup in fighting yesterday, Western medical volunteers decided that conditions around the besieged city of Vukovar remained too dangerous to risk a second mercy mission to evacuate wounded from the front lines of Yugoslavia's civil war.

The international aid organization Doctors Without Borders managed to rescue 109 seriously injured patients after a harrowing, 13-hour journey through the Serb-Croat war zone from Vukovar's shattered hospital Saturday.

Fighting eased yesterday in most of ravaged eastern Croatia, where a steady rain pelted the region and seemed to dampen enthusiasm for further battles among the fatigued combatants. Croatian Radio reported only sporadic gunfire around Vukovar. But after a day of dodging artillery fire and army roadblocks, the medical rescue workers decided against an immediate second attempt to evacuate some of the remaining 200 wounded fighters in Vukovar, the Tanjug news agency reported.

Peace talks between Croatian officials and the Yugoslav army, which has backed Serbian militants fighting Croatian independence, reconvened in the Croatian capital of Zagreb yesterday, but there was no word of any breakthrough.

Those negotiations had led to orders by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and federal Defense Minister Veljko Kadijevic for a weekend cease-fire to allow the medical mission into Vukovar.

The orders were often defied. The ambulance caravan was fired on repeatedly during its daylong journey. Two nurses were badly injured when the truck they were riding in struck a land mine.

Army officers manning roadblocks around Vukovar also forced the convoy to take numerous detours, turning what should have been a 25-mile trip into an ordeal that ended early yesterday when the vehicles arrived at a field hospital in the village of Novi Mikanovci.

Most of those evacuated were Croatian police officers or members of the republic's national guard.

Some of those rescued said hardly a building was left habitable in Vukovar, the scene of continuous battles since early September between Croatian national guardsmen and Serbian-controlled federal forces.

"The town has been destroyed. It isn't there any more," Dario Topuljnjak, an injured police officer, said. "There is no food, no water, no electricity. The people are tired, but they will never give up. They will fight to the last."

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