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U.N. Warns Rebel Serbs in Croatia

Serbs in Eastern Slavonia Told to Accept
Authority or Risk Being Crushed by Croatia

(ZAGREB, March 9—Reuters) The U.S. head of a new U.N. transitional force in Croatia said in an interview published on Saturday that remaining rebel Serbs must accept government authority or be crushed by the Croatian army. A heavily-armed U.N. force of 5,000 is to move across truce lines into Croatia's Eastern Slavonia enclave next month with a mandate to demilitarise and then transfer it from separatist Serb to Croatian government rule within a year.

U.S. diplomats crafted the Eastern Slavonia accord parallel to the Dayton peace treaty on Bosnia, hoping to deter a Croatian offensive against local Serbs that would endanger the delicate new balance of power across former Yugoslavia. Jacques Klein, the U.S. diplomat put in charge of Eastern Slavonia, was quoted as saying if the area's Serbs reneged on their deal to rejoin Croatia, their fate would be no different from that of Serbs routed by the Croatian army last summer.

Croatian troops recaptured the Western Slavonia and Krajina enclaves -- a quarter of Croatian soil -- in two surprise attacks launched after Zagreb tired of the local Serb leadership's longstanding refusal to negotiate reintegration. Some 200,000 Serbs from the ethnic minority regions fled the Croatian army into exile.

Klein, asked in the interview by a major Croatian newspaper whether recalcitrant Serbs still bent on total autonomy in Eastern Slavonia could undermine the accord by resisting disarmament or concealing weapons, said: "I've told Serb leaders there is a tough way and an easy way to deal with things. My way is the easy way: If you cooperate I will make the best possible deals for you with the Croatian authorities. But if you rebel (again), you will have played all your trump cards... The (U.N. force) will leave and the Croats will do the job by themselves. There is no third option. "They nodded their heads and I think they got the message," Klein was quoted by the Zagreb daily Vecernji List as saying.

The ultimate goal of the temporary U.N. protectorate (UNTAES) is to restore Eastern Slavonia's former multi-ethnic society, allowing 90,000 Croat refugees to move back into their homes and and almost as many native Serb residents to stay. U.N. officials privately admit most Serbs will flee the reinstatement of Croatian rule for fear of revenge attacks by returning Croats, just as Serbs bolted from Sarajevo suburbs handed back to the Bosnian government under the Dayton treaty.

Paramilitary Serbs seized Eastern Slavonia and the other enclaves in a vicious 1991 communal war sparked by Croatia's secession from Serbian-led federal Yugoslavia. Klein said the Croatian government would be obliged to prevent retaliatory violence against Serbs remaining in Eastern Slavonia and treat them as equal citizens.

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