Fleeing in cars, tractors and horse-drawn carts with wobbly wooden wheels, a desperate river of refugees was trapped Tuesday by advancing Croat and Bosnian armies, who shelled them, shot at them and set their homes ablaze, U.N. officials said.
More than 100,000 Serb refugees fled after the Croatian army defeated the Serb rebels. Some 30,000 huddled around a U.N. base south of Zagreb, and 50,000 more jammed a road south into Serb-held parts of Bosnia.
Battles in the streets of Dvor, a border town on the road, kept the refugees from entering Bosnia. Rebel Serbs, Croatian troops and Muslim-led Bosnian government forces were “locked into a vicious firefight,” said U.N. spokesman Rida Ettarashanay.
Along the road, food, water and medicine were scarce, said a U.N. medic in Topusko, a Serb who gave his name only as Sasa for fear of reprisal. A few women delivered babies by the side of the road, he said by telephone.
Conditions were almost as bad for the thousands who made it across the border. Refugees streamed across northern Bosnia, and local aid workers said many were dying from exhaustion, heat and hunger. At night, the sweltering heat gave way to chilly rains. Aid workers in Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, said 10,000 infants were among the refugees.
And at the end of the refugees’ path, columns of cars 30 miles long were reported stuck at Bosnia’s eastern border with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
U.N. spokesman Yuri Shishaev said 120,000 Serbs were on the move in Croatia, and officials said the number could eventually reach 200,000. It was the largest single movement of people since war broke out in the former Yugoslavia four years ago.
Millions of people have fled their homes as Croats, Serbs and Muslims fight to redraw borders and create ethnically homogenous areas.