BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- The eight-man Yugoslav presidency Sunday warned that the army would act to prevent escalations of violence between Croats and Serbs in the Croatian republic as more ethnic violence broke out and left two people wounded.
In one incident, a sniper fired a shot late Saturday at the bulletproof car of Yugoslav Vice President Stipe Mesic, the Croatian representative on the presidency, who was attending a crisis session of the collective head of state in Belgrade at the time, officials said.
The driver escaped unharmed from the attack that occurred in Slavonski Brod, halfway between Belgrade and the Croatian capital of Zagreb, 250 miles west of the national capital, only 10 days before Mesic was scheduled to assume the presidency's annual rotating chairmanship. No arrest was reported.
The presidency session was called following the bloodiest day of strife between Christian Orthodox Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats since a civil war that erupted during World War II ended in 1945 with a victory by communist guerrillas that included members of both of Yugoslavia's major ethnic groups.
Thirteen Croatian police and three Serbs died and 27 other people were injured in confrontations Thursday between Croatian security forces and extremists of Croatia's 600,000-strong Serbian community who have risen in virtual revolt over plans by the republic's ruling nationalists to secede from the six-republic federation. A civilian was killed in fresh violence Saturday near the village of Borovo Selo, the scene of the worst unrest on Thursday.
In a statement issued early Sunday, the presidency said that 'the latest events ... have shown the whole complexity of the political- security situation in the country, which threatens to escalate into inter-ethnic conflicts of wider proportions and which have led the country to the brink of civil war.'
It appealed for calm, saying that 'these problems can be solved only with political means and in a democratic way.'
The presidency praised the response to the violence by the communist- led Yugoslav army, which deployed troops and armored units in an expansion of peacekeeping operations launched in Croatia after two people died in a March 31 clash between Croatian police and rebel Serbs.
It warned against actions that could ignite further bloodshed, saying that the military 'will prevent such activities if they happen and make impossible new inter-ethnic conflicts.'
But ethnic tensions provoked an alarming escalation in incidents across Croatia overnight Saturday, including the attack on Mesic's vehicle.
The Tanjug news agency said that rebel Serbian police from Knin, the main town of Croatia's largest Serbian-dominated area, which has declared independence from the republic, wounded a Croat while abducting him from his village.
A member of the Knin police was wounded when suspected Croatian gunmen fired on his patrol vehicle in the village of Gracac, it said.
Serbs in Knin, 320 miles southwest of Belgrade, destroyed Croat-owned shops in a rampage on Saturday night, while two electricity pylons were toppled in the coastal town of Biograd-na-Moru.
In Osijek, a major town in the eastern Slavonija area, 110 miles northwest of Belgrade, suspected Croatian nationalists vandalized a Serbian Orthodox church and used cars to temporarily block the entrance of an army base, Tanjug said.
In nearby Vukovar, gunfire and bomb blasts were heard during the night, but there were no reports of casualties, it said.
A bomb, it said, damaged a Serbian-owned cafe in the ethnically mixed central Croatian town of Petrinja.
Tanjug quoted officials in Vojvodina, a province of the Serbian republic, as saying about 200 Serbs from Slavonija, mostly women and children, had fled in boats across the Danube River seeking refuge.
The Croatian government has accused Serbia's communist regime of engineering the violence to prevent Croatia from seceding and preserving by force the Yugoslav federation dominated by the 8.5 million Serbian majority.
Croatia and Slovenia, supported by Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, want Yugoslavia converted into an 'alliance' of independent states. Serbia and communist-ruled Montenegro advocate maintaining a socialist federation.
Croatia's Serbs are demanding that their areas be incorporated into Serbia if the federation is dissolved.