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Serbs Flee, Remaining Croats Greet Troops in Retaken Town

August 6, 1995 GMT

DRNIS, Croatia (AP) _ Just 101 Croats remained in Drnis to greet triumphant Croat soldiers on Saturday when they retook the town that fell to Serbs four years ago.

Most of the 6,000 prewar inhabitants were Croats. Of the 101 remaining, almost all were old women and men. Only 500 to 600 Serbs lived in Drnis for the past four years, and most of them fled Saturday.

In one bakery the bread was still warm, and laundry still hung in several yards, hinting at a hurried flight.

``I have been reborn today,″ said Petar Nakic, 70. He and his wife, both Croats, stayed after most of the majority Croat population fled the town just 15 miles from the rebel Serb stronghold of Knin.

``I didn’t want to leave my house,″ said Nakic, whose son Mihovil was a star Croatian and Yugoslav basketball player of the 1980s. In villages all around, he said, Serbs looted abandoned Croat homes. In Drnis itself, he said, ``it was a bit better.″

Ruins left from the 1991 war were already wrapped by lush Adriatic vegetation, hiding shell scars and bullet holes. But Drnis appeared unscarred by the current Croatian offensive to retake Serb-held lands.

The main battle for the town was fought for more than 36 hours at the nearby village of Zitnic, Croat soldiers said.

``When Zitnic fell, we walked into an empty city. Not a single bullet was fired in Drnis,″ said a soldier, who refused to be identified.

In the town, the tower of the Roman Catholic church apparently was blown up some time ago. Two Croat policemen stood guard in front of the intact Serb Orthodox church.

The dozen remaining Serbs gathered in front of the police station. Also there were two unidentified men in civilian clothes, guarded by police who said they were prisoners, and that ammunition and rifles were found on them.

Marija Cupic, an 84-year-old Croat, wandered disoriented. Her Serb neighbor had cared for her since her husband died last year, and brought her bread every morning.

``This morning he did not come, so I went to his house and found it locked,″ said Cupic. A Croat soldier gave her a loaf and juice.

The other Croats sang and shouted with joy, hugging the soldiers. Some soldiers shot in the air in celebration.

When soldiers from the Croatian army’s 142nd regiment, all Drnis natives, arrived, there was even greater joy.

Some tried to enter their homes.

Frane Alduk, 31, stood before the front wall of his mother’s blown-up house. She has lived as a refugee in a hotel near Split since 1991.

But most were afraid to enter any closed space, for fear of mines and booby traps.

Soldier Ivica Brajica walked up to his intact house.

``This is my mansion. This is where my youth lies,″ Brajica said, trying to enter the locked home, but finding the lock too stubborn.

He later learned the house had been inhabited by the now-vanished head of the local Serb militia.