VUKOVAR, Bosnia ( - "Death to the Pope and Tudjman" read newly painted graffiti on the pavement in front of the Croatian Ss. Phillip and Jacob Catholic church at the Franciscan monastery in Vukovar, Bosnia, referring to Pope John Paul II and Bosnian President Alfredo Tudjman, as Serbian extremists took steps to intimidate returning refugees.

      Other vandalism included damage to the tomb of the family of Count Eltz with the bodies being desecrated and more graffiti painted on the walls inside the church, explicitly warning Croats not to offend Serbians. Local police have started an investigation, but no suspects have yet been identified, but said Serbian extremists are the top suspects. Franciscan friar Brother Ante Perkovic said the tomb has been tampered with before.

      The church itself was heavily damaged during fighting between Serbs and Croats in 1991, and while it is not in regular use, it has received pilgrims everyday since mid-January when the eastern part of Croatia was handed over under full Croatian sovereignty, previously being governed by the UN. The church in Vukovar was a well-chosen target because Vukovar symbolizes Croatian resistance to Serbians, and was the most heavily damaged Croatian town during the civil war.

      The Independent Democratic Serbian Party and Common Council of Enclaves from Eastern Croatia issued a joint statement condemning the desecration, stating: "It is obviously another in the series of horrific events, which is ... a direct attack on everything done in accomplished for establishing trust and inter-ethnic tolerance." The Serbian party said the attack was "a premeditated action of extremists which, no matter their ethnicity, deserve condemnation by all wanting to create a normal life for the region."

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April 17-19, 1998 volume 9, no. 75         DAILY CATHOLIC