The Pakrac clash (known in Croatian as the "Battle of Pakrac", Bitka za Pakrac) was a bloodless skirmish that took place in the eastern Croatian town of Pakrac in March 1991. It was one of the first serious outbreaks of violence in what became the Croatian War of Independence.
The clash began after rebel Serbs seized the town's police station and municipal building and harassed Croatian government officials. The Croatian government carried out a counterstrike against the rebels, sending Interior Ministry special police to re-establish control. Fighting broke out between the two sides. Despite an attempted intervention by the Yugoslav National Army, the Croatian government successfully reasserted its control over the town.
In 1990, following the electoral defeat of the government of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, ethnic tensions worsened. The Yugoslav People's Army (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija – JNA) confiscated Croatia's Territorial Defence (Teritorijalna obrana - TO) weapons to minimize resistance. On 17 August, the tensions escalated into an open revolt of the Croatian Serbs, centred on the predominantly Serb-populated areas of the Dalmatian hinterland around Knin, parts of the Lika, Kordun, Banovina and eastern Croatia. They established a Serbian National Council in July 1990 to coordinate opposition to Croatian President Franjo Tuđman's policy of pursuing independence of Croatia. Milan Babić, a dentist from the southern town of Knin, was elected president. Knin's police chief, Milan Martić, established paramilitary militias. The two men eventually became the political and military leaders of the Republic of Serb Krajina, a self-declared state incorporating the Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia.
In the beginning of 1991, Croatia had no regular army. In an effort to bolster its defence, Croatia doubled police personnel to about 20,000. The most effective part of the force was 3,000-strong special police deployed in twelve battalions adopting military organisation of the units. In addition there were 9,000–10,000 regionally organised reserve police. The reserve police was set up in 16 battalions and 10 companies, but the reserve force lacked weapons.
Pakrac is located in the western part of Slavonia. In February 1991, Babić and Martić directed Serb paramilitaries to take over the town's police station and municipal buildings. On March 1, the paramilitaries disarmed the town's 16 Croatian policemen and subjected local Croatian officials to a campaign of vilification and intimidation. At the time, the police in Pakrac was commanded by Jovo Vezmar, who sided with Babić and Martić.
In response, President Tuđman ordered the Croatian Interior Ministry to restore the government's authority over the town. At 04:30 on March 2, 1991, a 200-strong Croatian police Lučko Anti-Terrorist Unit entered Pakrac. They arrested 180 ethnic-Serb rebels without either side sustaining deaths or injuries. The special police was commanded by Marko Lukić and Mladen Markač. At the same time, Vezmar was replaced by Stjepan Kupsjak as the Pakrac police chief.
The Croatian action prompted an intervention from the federal Yugoslav government. Borisav Jović, the Serbian representative on the collective Presidency of Yugoslavia, supported a request by Yugoslav Defence Minister Veljko Kadijević to send the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) to the scene. The arrival of JNA tanks in Pakrac came too late to stop the Croatian special police from retaking the town. However, it prompted remaining Serbian rebels to begin shooting at the town from the surrounding hills. The shooting ended when talks between Croatian member of the federal presidency Stjepan Mesić and JNA Colonel Aleksandar Vasiljević produced an agreement that the Croatian police would be allowed to retain control of the town. The JNA pulled out of Pakrac following a decision of the Yugoslav Presidency.
The incident had a lasting significance in that it was the first serious skirmish in what would become a full-scale war between Croatia and its rebel Serb population. It was used by the Serbian government to bolster nationalist propaganda claims that Croatia was committing "genocide" against its Serb population. Up to 40 deaths from the clash were reported by Serbian and Montenegrin media outlets. In an indication of the confused and highly inaccurate nature of the reporting, the Belgrade daily Večernje novosti reported on its front page that the town's Orthodox priest had been killed, on its second page that he had been wounded, and on its third page printed a statement from him. The Yugoslav presidency finally issued a statement that nobody had been killed in Pakrac.
The ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), led by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević, condemned the Croatian police action as a "brutal attack by the Croatian government on the population of Pakrac [using] violent and fascist methods" – a claim that was carried prominently by the state-controlled Radio Television Belgrade. The SPS urged Serbs to attend "protest meetings against the violent behaviour of the Croatian HDZ government." Milošević used the event to demand that the JNA be authorized to forcibly disarm Croatia. The request was made through Kadijević at a Presidency session of 11–15 May, specifically demanding the wartime powers be given to the JNA and a state of emergency introduced. The refusal led Milošević to declare that he no longer recognised the authority of the federal presidency.
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