Shells slammed down on columns of Serb refugees Tuesday, the United Nations said as more than 100,000 people fled a stunning defeat by the Croatian army.
The exodus may be the largest since fighting broke out in the former Yugoslavia four years ago. The Croatian offensive captured a huge swath of Serb-held territory and sent many residents into Serb-held lands in Bosnia and Serbia.U.N. spokesman Yuri Shishaev said an estimated 120,000 Serbs were on the move in Croatia. In addition, tens of thousands of renegade Muslims were on the move after the Bosnian army retook all rebel-held land around Bihac in northwestern Bosnia.
Many refugees were stuck in a region between the Croatian capital of Zagreb and the border with Bosnia, squeezed between the Croatian army to the north and the Bosnian army pushing up from the south.
About 30,000 refugees were camped out around the U.N. base at Topusko, 35 miles south of Zagreb, said U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko in Sarajevo.
Further along the refugees' route, columns of cars 30 miles long were backed up at the border between Bosnia and Serbia.
Aid agencies said the Serb exodus from Croatia could total 200,000 people.
Evidence mounted that some of the refugees were coming under attack.
Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said a group of refugees near Topusko was shelled Tuesday, either by Croat or Bosnian government artillery.
Basing his account on reports from UNHCR field workers near the shelling, he said an unknown number of people were killed. U.N. spokeswoman Leah Melnick said six shells landed on a stretch of road crowded with refugees in the space of three minutes.
There were also reports of "indiscriminate shooting of refugees" south of Zagreb, said Yasushi Akashi, head of the United Nations for the former Yugoslavia. He could not say how widespread the reports were.
Another U.N. official, Chris Gunness, said Ukrainian peacekeepers had seen Bosnian soldiers torching houses.
On Monday, Serb officials said Croatian jets attacked a refugee column trying to enter western Bosnia near the town of Bosanski Petrovac. Witnesses said five people were killed and many more were wounded.
The refugee exodus followed a three-day Croatian offensive that retook three-quarters of the territory seized by Serb rebels in a 1991 war and formed into a breakaway state called Krajina. There were no estimates of civilian casualties, which were believed to be high.
Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak said the offensive ended by 6 p.m. Monday. U.N. officials reported little fighting Tuesday in Krajina, a crescent-shaped stretch of territory hugging northwestern Bosnia.
Representatives of the Croatian government and rebel Serbs were to meet in Glina, south of Zagreb, to sign a cease-fire, said U.N. spokesman James Kanu.
But even as they planned for peace, witnesses reported a huge column of Bosnian Serb fighters heading toward Croatia's battlefields across the northern Serb-held section of Bosnia. Secret service units loyal to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic accompanied the Bosnian Serbs, the wit-nesses said.
There were also large-scale Yugoslav army movements through Serbia toward Croatia's eastern border. If the column of tanks were to cross into Croatia it would surely provoke a new, wider war.