Croatia issued a thinly veiled ultimatum to rebel Serbs on Wednesday, saying they must abandon their resistance or face attack from 100,000 troops.
“Your time has almost expired,” said Croatian government official Petar Pasic in an open letter to the residents of Knin, the rebel Serbs’ self-proclaimed capital.
Croatian government officials and rebel Serbs were to meet in Geneva today for talks. But Croatia has made clear it will accept nothing less than Serb agreement to submit to Croatian government rule. Serbs, who seized one-third of Croatia in a six-month war in 1991, have vowed never to yield.
Tired of waiting for the United Nations to reintegrate the Serb-held lands, Croatia has been warning for months it will use force if necessary to accomplish that goal.
Croatia has mobilized 100,000 soldiers for a possible attack on the rebel Serbs, who have 50,000 men ready for battle, U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness said Wednesday. Those numbers match independent estimates.
The Croatian army launched an offensive in May to retake the most vulnerable chunk of Serb-held territory, testing its new strength and signaling Serbs what else may come.
Croatia also has steadily acquired weapons, despite a U.N. arms embargo. And its troops are much better trained and organized than in 1991.
Pasic, described by the state-run Croatian news agency HINA as the government official responsible for Knin, urged Serbs to submit to Zagreb’s rule and “turn your back on (your) leaders … who are pushing you toward suffering and hell.”
He warned that Serb civilians could face a similar fate as Muslim refugees chased from Srebrenica and Zepa, two Bosnian enclaves overrun by Serbs last month.
He also noted the plight of Bosnian Serbs chased from Grahovo and Glamoc last week after the towns, near Bosnia’s border with Croatia, were taken by the Croatian army.
“Don’t you see the suffering of your brothers from Glamoc and Grahovo?” Pasic asked, according to HINA.