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URGENT Croatia and Slovenia Declare Independence; Army Urged to Intervene

June 25, 1991 GMT

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Croatia and Slovenia today proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia, and the federal Parliament immediately urged the army to intervene to prevent the breakup of the nation.

Croatia’s Sabor, or legislature, approved the package of independence laws shortly after 6 p.m. (noon EDT) in Zagreb.

In Ljubljana, the Slovene capital, Parliament approved legislation declaring the republic’s independence and outlining its terms at 8:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m.). Both legislatures voted overwhelmingly in favor.

The moves provoked a sharp reaction in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital. The federal Parliament issued a statement urging the army ″to undertake measures to prevent the division of Yugoslavia and changes in its borders.″ The Parliament may have overstepped its authority because it normally has no control over the army. That is reserved for the federal presidency, which has been paralyzed by the Yugoslav crisis and has not met for weeks.

By declaring their independence, Croatia and Slovenia threaten to inflame longstanding ethnic tensions, worsen Yugoslavia’s grave economic problems and even plunge the patchwork nation into a civil war.

The two Western-oriented republics have long pushed for a loose federation against the objections of hard-line leaders from Serbia, the largest of Yugoslavia’s six republics. Croatia and Slovenia have already held referendums in which secession won overwhelming support.

In Zagreb, Zarko Domjan, speaker of Croatia’s parliament, said: ″Croatia no longer remains within federative Yugoslavia.″

A copy of Croatia’s declaration obtained by The Associated Press said the republic was a ″sovereign and independent state.″

″By this act, the Republic of Croatia initiates the process of disassociation from the other republics″ and Yugoslavia, the document says.

It says Croatia’s present borders were valid. That provision was an apparent reaction to threats by neighboring Serbia to annex parts of Croatia with a large ethnic Serb population.

Violence between Serbs and Croats, the country’s two largest ethnic groups, has claimed the lives of at least 22 people in Croatia since early May, and all groups in the country are arming.

The 500,000-strong Serbian minority in Croatia, which claims it is discriminated against, formed enclaves and declared them independent earlier this year. They had said that the regions, comprising about a 25 percent of Croatia’s territory, will remain part of Yugoslavia if Croatia separates.

Croatia and Slovenia had originally planned to declare independence Wednesday, and the decision to act earlier on the legislation was not explained. But it raised speculation that it was an attempt to put the federal government and Serbia off balance.

Now that the republics have declared independence, fierce fighting between Serbs and Croats could ripple through the rest of Yugoslavia and the rest of the Balkans, which have a history of internecine violence.

Yugoslavia, a country of four official languages and at least 24 ethnic groups, has been fragile since it was first formed in 1918.

After the Communists were swept from power throughout eastern Europe in 1989, Yugoslavia also moved toward democracy and elections were held in all six republics last year.

Yugoslav Premier Ante Markovic warned Monday in Zagreb that his government would ″use all legal means″ to stop the two republics from breaking away. But he also said force would not be used.

Slovenia’s new legislation will produce few major immediate changes. There will be no Slovene passports, no new banknotes and about 20,000 federal army troops will remain stationeded on Slovene territory.

But the new legislation unilaterally annuls the validity of the Yugoslav Constitution on Slovene territory.

It establishes a Slovene central bank, which authorities say could issue its own currency within eight months. It also transfers customs authorities and air traffic control, previously under federal jurisdiction, to Slovenia.

The republic’s deputies in the federal Parliament are to be withdrawn and replaced by a 12-member delegation to deal with ″disassociation.″

The delegates also are charged with negotiations on a ″possible future community of sovereign states.″

According to the new legislation, Slovenia will gradually take control of all property belonging to the Yugoslav People’s Army by the end of 1993.

Slovenia has requested federal troops to leave the republic by that date, but there has been no response by Yugoslav generals. Slovenia also seek to have its citizens serving in the army to be recalled.

The deputy speaker of Croatia’s parliament, Vladimir Seks, said in a televised legislative session from Zagreb that his republic will no longer accept federal laws.

Federal agencies will need ″explicit permission″ by Croatia’s authorities to act on the republic’s territory.

Croatia will recall all of its deputies from the federal Parliament, and its representatives in other federal organs will take part in their work only until Croatia ″fully disassociates″ from the rest of the country, Seks said.

He said Croatia intends to defend its current borders and will recognize Slovenia as an independent state.