Croatian special task police stormed the western Yugoslav town of Pakrac Saturday and recaptured its Serbian-dominated police station in a major incident that pushed multiethnic Yugoslavia deeper into civil strife, news reports and officials said.
"We have installed the public peace and order in Pakrac," Milan Brezak, an assistant Croatian interior (police) minister, told Zagreb Radio. He said there were no injuries, but that an estimated 30 people were detained. He did not elaborate.The incident threatened to worsen already tense relations between Croatia and Serbia, the two major republics in the loose six-republic federation of 23 million people. It also could hamper talks currently under way between feuding ethnic leaders of Yugoslavia on the future of the country.
In an effort to "prevent escalation of inter-ethnic conflicts," Yugoslav President Borisav Jovic, representing Serbia in the eight
man state presidency, agreed with his Defense Minister Gen. Veljko Kadijevic and ordered troops sent into Pakrac, a statement by the collective head of state said.
The Serbian state-run Belgrade Radio quoted witnesses in Pakrac, the Croatian town whose population of 30,000 are a mix of Serbs and Croats, as saying a number of Serbs were killed and tens of them injured in clashes with Croatian police. The figure of dead ranged from three to six people but the reports could not be confirmed.
Offices and stores were closed in Pakrac Saturdax, bst loafs of bread were on sale in the streets.
In an overnight move, about 150 Croatian special task police with six armored personnel carriers, sent bulldozers to plow a way to Pakrac through barricades put up Friday by Serbs, Croatian officials said. The Croatian police used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse crowds of some 400 Serbs Saturday morning. The Croatian police recaptured the Pakrac police station, held by Serbs, and seized the town hall building, officials said.
On Feb. 22, the Pakrac police station joined a group of Serbian-dominated enclaves in Croatia refusing further obedience to the Police Ministry in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, 62 miles northwest of Pakrac.
During the past week, the Serbian-controlled police station "in a illegal way mobilized police reservists of Serbian nationality" who disarmed 16 policemen of Croatian nationality in the Pakrac police station Friday, the Croatian Interior (police) Ministry said in a statement. The Croatian police unit was sent to Pakrac overnight and Saturday the "order and discipline have been imposed in the police station in Pakrac, the police statement said.
A number of armed policemen of the Serbian nationality fled the Pakrac station and took refuge in the hills outside the town, Zagreb Radio said.
Croatian special task police units controlled the streets of Pakrac, checking passers-by and vehicles. Sporadic shots could be heard in the town, the national news agency Tanjug reported.