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Army, Croatia fulfill de-escalation accord

By
VLADIMIR JADRANIC

ZAGREB, Yugoslavia -- The communist-led Yugoslav army and the secession-minded Croatian government Saturday drew back from 'the edge of civil war,' implementing an accord taking troops off combat readiness and demobilizing Croatian reserve police.

Amid the conciliatory moves, however, the federal Ministry of Defense in Belgrade defended the authenticity of a film purportedly of secret meetings by Croatian officials plotting insurrection, adding it would pursue 'legal proceedings.' Croatian officials denounced the film as fraudulent.

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Some 60,000 Croatians rallied in chilly weather in support of their nationalist government in a central square of the republic's capital of Zagreb, 250 miles northwest of Belgrade, chanting to Croatian officials 'Call on us, we will give our lives for you.'

Similar gatherings were reported throughout the republic.

Speaking to the Zagreb rally, Yugoslav Vice President Stipe Mesic, the Croatian representative on Yugoslavia's eight-man collective presidency, sought to soothe tensions.

'... I promise that an era of peace, work, and democracy has come, when nobody is to give conditions to Croatia on what to do in the future,' he said. 'I appeal to you to go back to your everyday jobs, but to remain ready in case somebody makes an attempt to impose their solutions on us by force.'

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The developments came hours after marathon negotiations in Belgrade led by the collective presidency ended in an agreement to avert a potentially bloody showdown between the military and Croatian police forces deployed to resist any intervention by troops.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman announced his government fulfilled its end of the agreement, 'demobilizing' at noon some 21,000 reserve police that were deployed with 22,000 regular officers to resist the army.

An announcement from the 5th Army District, which encompasses Croatia and the neighboring Slovenian Republic, said it had also met its obligations, taking troops off 'full combat readiness.'

'We were on the edge of civil war,' Tudjman said in a report on the Belgrade talks to the republic's assembly. 'The Yugoslav army was at its highest state of readiness and the Croatian police were ready.'

But, he added, 'We secured peace for our people, our soldiers, Croats in the Yugoslav army, our mothers and sisters, peace in our homes.'

He appeared to substantiate the military's charges an insurrection was being planned, saying in 'the actions of some of our people, extremists and provocateurs, the Yugoslav army could find reasons for the highest level of readiness.'

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'There are facts about preparations of attacks on members of the army, their apartments, that members of the army were watched, as well as members of some ethnic groups and members of some religions, and that they were threatened,' he said.

His statement indicated that in the accord reached in Belgrade, he agreed to purge extremists from his nationalist Croatian Democratic Union and allow the military to prosecute some members, 16 of whom Tudjman said had already been arrested by the army.

The standoff had provoked grave fears among Yugoslav officials and foreign diplomats that a confrontation between the Croatian police and the army could ignite tensions already threatening civil strife among the 23 million people of the multi-ethnic federation.

Croatia and Slovenia, which is also governed by pro-secession nationalists who feared army intervention, had warned repeatedly that they would fight the army -- which is dominated by Marxists from the rival republic of Serbia.

Both administrations, which ousted communists last April in Yugoslavia's first free post-war elections, accused the army of planning crackdowns to end their campaign to have Yugoslavia converted from a six-republic federation into a confederation of independent states.

They charge that Marxist-ruled Serbia, the largest republic, is seeking political and economic control of the nation. Serbia, as well as the conservative communist majority of the presidency's eight members and the military, oppose the breakup of the country.

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The dispute has persisted for months, stoking frictions between members of the country's six main ethnic groups of three major religions and exacerbating economic woes, undermining efforts to transform Yugoslavia into a Western-style democracy and pushing it toward civil war.

According to a report from Budapest, the Hungarian frontier guard command Friday night decided to 'reinforce control' on all crossings with Yugoslavia because of the tense situation in Croatia.

Meanwhile, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug said Hungary and Yugoslavia exchanged notes on allegations in the Yugoslav defense ministry film that Croatia illegally imported 460 cases of automatic rifles from Hungary. The Hungarian government rejected the allegations of Hungarian involvement as 'unfounded accusations.'

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