BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- This country's warring factions greeted their latest cease-fire with a hail of bullets yesterday, when federal warplanes bombed five Croatian towns and clashes intensified for control of the devastated city of Vukovar.
The 13th truce declared in nearly five months of fighting between Serbs and Croats went into effect at 6 p.m., after darkness and rain already had quelled the battles that raged throughout Croatia during the day.
The cease-fire arranged between federal and Croatian negotiators, who have limited control over the combatants, was intended as a starting point in meeting U.N. conditions for deployment of a peacekeeping force in Yugoslavia.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, the U.N. special envoy dealing with the Yugoslav crisis, was expected to begin a weeklong visit to the war-torn federation today.
Foremost among the U.N. prerequisites for foreign intervention is a lasting cease-fire that would allow the "blue helmet" peacekeepers to deploy in relative safety.
A senior Western diplomat in Belgrade disclosed that "a lasting cease-fire" is being defined by U.N. officials as a minimum of eight weeks, a goal that he conceded is virtually hopeless in the current atmosphere of mounting fear and vengeance.
In the hours before the latest truce took effect, Serbian guerrillas and the Serbian-commanded federal army stepped up attacks on Croatian holdouts in Vukovar.
Belgrade television showed footage of the latest clashes, with federal troops and Serbian irregulars flushing the Croatian resisters out of basements and bomb shelters and interrogating prisoners forced to lie face-down on debris-strewn floors with their hands tied behind them.
Houses visible in the background were roofless skeletons, with every structure perforated by multiple grenade and mortar strikes. Television also showed several corpses of Croatian national guardsmen left along roadsides or at the edge of unharvested cornfields that provided cover during shootouts in the siege.
The news agency Tanjug reported that a 28-year-old Yugoslav journalist was killed yesterday in Vukovar, the 17th reporter known to have died in the fighting.
The Associated Press reported that federal forces hoisted Yugoslav flags yesterday over Borovo Naselje, a village just north of Vukovar on the Danube River, a key part of the defense around the besieged city. The heavy fighting around Vukovar as the deadline passed appeared to doom the latest cease-fire.
Croatian Radio also reported sporadic artillery fire on the Adriatic resort of Dubrovnik, where a short-lived cease-fire late last week allowed 3,000 women, children, old people and wounded fighters to be evacuated by the ferry Slavija.
The overloaded ship docked in the northern Croatian port of Pula overnight after two babies were born and a 52-year-old man died of heart failure during the 36-hour voyage.