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Yugoslav Warplanes Attack Zagreb, Nearly Hit Politicians

October 8, 1991

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Yugoslav air force jets rocketed the presidential palace in the capital of secessionist Croatia Monday, narrowly missing the republic’s leaders and the federal premier.

The attack came hours before a deadline set by the European Community for the parties to cease hostilities or face economic sanctions. It came despite an appeal from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev not to escalate the civil war with attacks on Zagreb.

Many Zagreb residents fled to shelters Monday night. Phosphorous flares illuminated the sky and explosions could be heard. Streets were cleared under a curfew.

″It was by sheer miracle that we stayed alive,″ Premier Ante Markovic, a Croat and leader of the federal government, told his office in Belgrade by telephone, according to Tanjug news agency.

Markovic blamed his own defense minister, Gen. Veljko Kadijevic, for ″the attempted murder″ of Croatia’s leaders. He said he would not return to Belgrade, the federal capital, until Kadijevic was ousted.

Later Monday, the presidency of Serbia and its three allies offered to stop fighting at Monday midnight if the Europeans who have been attempting to mediate the conflict could guaranteed Croatia’s cooperation.

Serbia said that once the cease-fire took hold, Croatia would have 24 hours to lift its blockades of federal army garrisons. The army would resume battle if Croatia failed to comply, it warned.

There was no immediate Croatian response. The army has used the blockades to justify its onslaught against Croatian forces over the past week. Croatia has refused to lift the blockades until the army attacks cease.

Despite at least six cease-fire agreements, the war pitting Croatia versus federal troops and Serb rebels has steadily intensified in the past three months.

Markovic, who has little power because of the collapse of the federal government, said he was meeting with Stipe Mesic, the Croatian chairman of the federal presidency, and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman when ″the hall we were in was hit by a rocket from an air force plane,″ Tanjug said.

No injuries were reported. Mesic was later seen walking from the palace, and Tudjman appeared on TV to condemn the attack. Germany also condemned the ″barbarous act″ and blamed the Yugoslav army.

The residence of Switzerland’s consul general in Zagreb was damaged in the raid, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said.

The Croatian Defense Ministry said the rockets were fired by a federal air force jet. But the federal military denied ordering the air attack and said, ″It is not to be excluded that the Croatian leadership staged this attack.″

Just hours before the peace offer by Serbian officials, the Yugoslav army, which increasingly seems unified with Serbia in its goals, launched an all-out assault on Croatia.

Several grenades hit and apparently set fire to a large oil refinery in Sisak, southeast of Zagreb, Croatian radio said. The army fired missiles at three Croatian militia bases around Zagreb, Tanjug reported.

At least 600 people have died since Croatia declared independence. Some estimates put the toll as high as 2,500.

Croats blame the war on Serbian expansionism, while members of the ethnic Serb minority say the fight is to protect them from absorption into an ultranationalist Croatian state.

Branko Kostic, vice president of the federal presidency and a Serbian ally, told parliament in his home republic of Montenegro that the Yugoslav army could no longer tolerate Croatian blockades affecting 25,000 soldiers.

″We have decided to liberate them by force,″ Tanjug quoted Kostic as saying. ″This is no longer a military but a moral question.″

Gen. Andrija Raseta, deputy army commander in Croatia, said before Monday’s air raid he had advised his superiors that negotiations were no longer possible. He said the Croats ignored an agreement to hold their fire while the army removed its dead and wounded.

″The time has come not to believe anyone,″ Raseta said.

Gorbachev earlier had sent a message to Yugoslav leaders saying an attack on Zagreb ″would generate strong condemnation worldwide.″ He said he was concerned about the safety of Soviet nationals in Croatia.

The U.S. Consulate in Zagreb urged all Americans, including journalists, to leave.

Monday’s attack - which struck the city’s main government district - was the second by air on Zagreb in the civil war.

Two rockets went through the roof of the presidential palace, severely damaging the two-story building. Glass and debris were scattered among the antique furniture in Tudjman’s office.

″This was a top-class pilot,″ said Mate Lauzic, Tudjman’s bodyguard. ″It was a very accurate hit. They were aiming for his office.″

Heavy fighting was reported near the medieval port of Dubrovnik and in Karlovac, southwest of Zagreb, as well as in the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar, under siege for a week.

Among the victims in Vukovar was a journalist from the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti. The Tanjug news agency said Milan Zegarac was trying to get a front-line view when he was struck by machine-gun fire. At least seven other journalists have died in the Yugoslav fighting.

Slovenia, which declared independence in tandem with Croatia and fought a brief war against the federal military in June, said Monday that all federal forces must leave by Oct. 18.

″All those who remain behind after that date will be treated ... as members of a foreign army,″ a government statement said.

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