DERVENTA, Bosnia-Herzegovina ( - Cardinal Vinko Puljic of Sarajevo and a group of Croatian Catholic pilgrims were attacked last Thursday and held hostage for six hours in Derventa, a town in the Serbian-controlled part of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

      The cardinal's secretary received a head injury, inflicted by a thrown stone, and four other pilgrims, refugees who lived in Derventa before the 1992-95 civil war, sustained injuries. The group was visiting their hometown to which they still cannot return, and wanted to at least visit the remains of the church and graveyards and celebrate Mass, a spokesman said.

      Cardinal Puljic and the group of around 600 pilgrims arrived to Derventa at 11:30 am in by buses and private cars, and proceeded to clean the graveyard beside the destroyed church, where the cardinal was scheduled to celebrate Mass. Instead, a crowd of 1,500 Serbian attacked the group, throwing stones and eggs and hurling curses and insults. An explosive device was thrown into the crypt where Cardinal Puljic and around 100 pilgrims sought shelter, but luckily only the ignitor exploded. The crowd also tried to set the crypt on fire, but was stopped by the local police.

      The international police forces were not able to control the crowd and had to retreat to their headquarters. After six hours as hostages in the crypt, the pilgrims were saved by the SFOR troops of the UN. Cardinal Puljic was taken by SFOR forces to Sarajevo. Rescued pilgrims were escorted out of Serbian-controlled territories in special reinforced buses at which a couple of fire bombs were thrown. A number of the pilgrims' private vehicles were stolen by Serbian civilians and one bus was destroyed, police said.

      Auxiliary Bishop Pero Sudar of Sarajevo said that the first pilgrimage of exiled Croats to Derventa had all the necessary permits, including written permission of the Government of Republika Srpska -- the Serbian part of the Bosnia-Hercegovina federation.

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April 27, 1998 volume 9, no. 81         DAILY CATHOLIC