August 5, 1995
From International Correspondent Brent Sadler
KNIN, Croatia (CNN)-- The Croatian army has accomplished in 36 hours what political pressure failed to do for four years: return the city of Knin to Croat control.
Troops surged into the self-proclaimed capital of the breakaway Krajina region this morning. And Croatia's state news agency says Croats have managed to link up in Krajina with Bosnian government troops.
United Nations troops watched the Croat's advance on Knin behind a barrage of deadly artillery fire. The Krajina Serb capital was captured in less than 36 hours. The Serbs were caught in a vice-like grip from north and south which closed fast. As Knin burned, Serb tanks fought a tactical retreat. Later, a 20 meter-long Croatian flag was reportedly flying over the 13th century citadel town.
In Zagreb, the Croatian government was attempting to allay the fears of countries with United Nations troops on the ground that the military campaign was not deliberately targeting peacekeepers. But the reassurances were, once again, overtaken by the course of war.
It was after a meeting broke up that the battle front reports of the fall of the Knin reached the capital. Chief of Staff Hrvoje Sarinic, Croatian government: "As far as I know our forces have just entered Knin and now Knin is free. And from now on Knin is part of the free territory of Croatia."
In the final hours, before Knin fell, columns of people began escaping the path of war. The Croats say the refugees can leave through two corridors to the north and south. The United Nations has now been asked to help evacuate more than 30,000 people to safety. Yakushi Akashi, U.N. Special Envoy: "It will be a major task. I think a humanitarian crisis is looming. The people now fleeing from the Krajina are now heading to Bosnia-Herzegovina."
A Croatian military spokesman in Zagreb claimed that armed forces have now liberated more than 700 kilometers of territory. There has been a degree of Serb retaliation. But damage and casualties inflicted on the Croat side are heavily outweighed by the Serb losses.
The Croatian government's hope is that with the defeat of Knin, the four year-old Krajina Serb rebellion will soon collapse. With stage one of their offensive successfully completed, the Croats want to consolidate their gain and pressure the rebel Serbs to give up their entire territory. That ambition is likely to take a lot longer to accomplish.
Meanwhile, NATO warplanes were quiet Saturday after two U.S. jets attacked a Croatian Serb ground-to-air radar site Friday night. A NATO spokesman said the jets, which were on patrol for the United Nations, destroyed the site after having been detected by radar at a Croatian Serb ground-to-air missle base in the Croation Serb area of Krajina.
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