U.N. mandate ends in last Serb-held area; Croatia takes it over

VUKOVAR, Croatia (AP) — Croatia assumed control today of the last swath of land taken by minority Serbs, stretching its authority over its entire territory for the first time since declaring independence in 1991.
The Croatian government took charge after a two-year transition period during which the territory had been under U.N. administration.
Hrvoje Sarinic, an aide to President Franjo Tudjman, described the land return as “a victory” worth even more because it came without bloodshed. U.N. officials also were satisfied because the area, eastern Slavonia, has become a rare example of territory changing hands peacefully through negotiation.
Serbs, who ruled the area for more than six years, were anxious.
“It is not fear that we are feeling,” Milan Trbojevic, a local journalist, said in a radio interview. “It is rather uncertainty.”
“So far, we have had the U.N. as a mediator,” he said. “Now, there are only the two of us, Serbs and Croats, and we will have to face each other, with all our memories and doubts.”
More than 70,000 Croats, expelled from the area, are eager to return; only about 7,500 have come back.
On the other side are about 100,000 local Serbs, who fear a large-scale return of Croats would expose them to random vengeance and discrimination. Thousands already have departed for Yugoslavia.
Croatia repeatedly has been told that integration into Western structures hinges on improving its poor record in terms of media freedom, human rights and minority rights.