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Thursday, July 16, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Serb Artillery Hits Refugees -- At Least 8 Die As Shells Hit Packed Stadium

Washington Post

SLAVONSKI BROD, Croatia - The blood-letting in Bosnia spilled over the border into Croatia yesterday as a volley of Serb artillery shells fell on a stadium packed with Bosnian refugees, killing at least eight and wounding scores more.

"People were torn apart, the wounded were screaming for help, there were bodies all over the ground," said Darko Jankovic, a photographer who arrived at the stadium moments after 15 rounds fired from Serb-held Bosnian territory crashed into it.

A doctor at the Slavonski Brod hospital said at least 35 of the wounded were in serious to critical condition, nine of them with severe head injuries. "It was a bloodbath," the doctor said. "The shells smashed right into the middle of the stadium. They were blown to pieces."

Most of the refugees were members of Bosnia's Slavic Muslim-led defense forces or draft-age Muslim men routed from their homes by powerful Serb militia forces seeking to secure control of most of the former Yugoslav republic. Over the past week, the outgunned Muslims have been fleeing here by the thousands in the face of a new Serb offensive, some of them swimming across the Sava River boundary that separates Bosnia from Croatia.

A policeman here said there was no doubt the shells were fired from Serb positions across the river and that they clearly were aimed at the stadium. "The Serbs knew they were there," he said.

MOST HAD FOUGHT

Since most of the refugees had been combatants in Bosnia's three-month-old factional conflict, they were being held at the stadium for repatriation by Croatian authorities, in accordance with an agreement between the two republics.

Local officials said that the first two or three Serb shells, which landed just outside the stadium, set off a stampede for the exits. Police fired shots into the air in an attempt to regain control, local officials said, but the next dozen rounds landed seconds later, and square on target.

The stadium is less than a mile from an underground shelter where Croatian Vice President Mate Granic was briefing a delegation of two dozen diplomats, relief workers and journalists. In the midst of his presentation, a loud "thump" of incoming artillery overhead raised worried eyebrows around the room; minutes later, several of Granic's aides rushed in with word of the carnage.

Granic also used the occasion to renew Croatia's call for U.N. military intervention to stem the Serb tide in Bosnia and for international financial support to help Croatia deal with the hundreds of thousands of Bosnian refugees streaming across its borders.

WAR SPILLS OVER BORDER

Croatia - a cash-strapped nation of 4.5 million people that just lost a territorial war with its own well-armed Serb minority - has threatened to close its borders to further Bosnian refugees because it cannot afford the $60 million monthly cost of housing and feeding the 660,000 already here.

Officially, the civil war in Croatia stopped seven months ago, with a U.N.-monitored truce. But in border towns like Slavonski Brod, the terror and bloodshed have increased since Serbs began waging war next door in Bosnia. There are now about 35,000 refugees in Slavonski Brod, and Serb mortar attacks on and around the town have become daily occurrences.

"The Croatians want us to go back to Bosnia," said Vedid, a 36-year-old Muslim policeman who said he feared he would be shot if he returned to his home. "But we don't have anywhere to go. The Serbs are in the towns with heavy weapons."

As he stopped outside the hospital where doctors were trying to save the lives of his dismembered compatriots, Vedid glanced at the passing parade of Bosnians and said he had no idea where they were going. They were just heading out of town, he said, away from Bosnia, away from the war.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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