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Croatia's President Honors Victims Of Croatian War Crimes In Bosnia

Croatian Leader Apologizes For War-Time Crimei
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April 15, 2010
In the Bosnian village of Ahmici, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, accompanied by Bosnian Army officers, laid a wreath at the monument to Bosnians murdered by Croats during the war in the 1992-95.

WATCH: In the Bosnian village of Ahmici, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic lays a wreath at a monument to Bosnians murdered by Croats during the 1992-95 war. (video by RFE/RL's Balkan Service)

(RFE/RL) -- Croatian President Ivo Josipovic has visited the central Bosnian village of Ahmici and paid tribute to the 116 Muslims massacred there by Croats in 1993.

Josipovic laid a wreath and toured the massacre site accompanied by the leaders of Bosnia's Catholic Church, Archbishop Cardinal Vinko Puljic, and Bosnia's grand mufti, Mustafa Ceric.

When told by one villager that his visit today was appreciated, even though no apology can bring back the dead, Josipovic replied: "Thank you. I truly believe that events like this will never happen again. All peoples here have suffered terribly and deserve a better future."

The tour was the strongest symbol to date of Josipovic's efforts as Croatia's new president to reach out to neighboring Balkan states.

Ahmici Crimes

During the 1990s, Zagreb supported secessionist Bosnian Croat leaders and became directly involved in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The massacre in Ahmici on April 16, 1993, was the worst war crime committed by the Zagreb-backed Bosnian Croat forces.

The attack on the mixed-community village was carefully planned, with Croatian residents evacuated beforehand. The Croatian forces then struck the village, along with some 20 other nearby sites, with infantry, mortars, and artillery, killing Muslim residents and burning down their homes.

Josipovic is the first Balkan president to formally apologize for his country's crimes.
The effort was widely seen as a warning to Bosnian Muslims to get out of areas that Bosnian Croat leaders claimed.

Bosnian Croat leaders for years denied the massacre, or tried to blame it on Serbian forces. But the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague ruled that the attack was a crime against humanity. One of the organizers, Dario Kordic, the political leader of the Croats in central Bosnia, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Since becoming president two months ago, Josipovic has sought to mend relations with all Croatia's Balkan neighbors as part of his campaign to fully turn the page on Croatia's wartime legacy.

He campaigned on promises to reduce corruption, fight organized crime, and bring the country into the European Union as quickly as possible.

Neighborly Relations

"There are three audiences for this trip," says Enis Zebic, RFE/RL's Balkan Service correspondent in Zagreb.

"The first one is the Croatian, local audience. [In Bosnia] he apologized for the Croatian participation in the policy, which he said tried to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early '90s," Zebic adds.

"There was never strong support for such a Croatian policy among the general Croatian public, but he estimated that it would be good to go to Bosnia and say, 'Yes, Croatian politics did some bad things there and we know that and we are sorry for that.'"

Zebic says the second audience is in Bosnia itself, with the aim of reducing tensions left over from the 1990s regarding the war, war crimes, and refugees. And the third audience for Josipovic's trip is the EU.

"Croatia wants to be a member of the European Union as soon as possible," Zebic says. "From Brussels' point of view, and from Zagreb's, a stable western Balkans is the best package for Croatia when she enters the EU. Croatia does not want to be the leader in the region, but wants to do its best to stabilize the region."

Accession talks, which began in 2005, have been slowed over the years by the EU's concerns over corruption in Croatia, past difficulties with extraditing key suspected war criminals to the ICTY, and, more recently by a border row with Slovenia. As a result, EU membership talks are still ongoing, long after Croatia joined NATO in 2008.

'Admit Crimes, Respect Victims'

Josipovic was elected in second-round voting to the presidency with a resounding 60 percent majority, thanks in part to his promises to make EU membership his top priority.

But whether the can do it by mending fences with neighbors remains to be seen. The toughest challenge by far is not in Bosnia, but to the east with Serbia.

Zagreb's relations with Belgrade remain deeply clouded by Croatia's own war with Serbia in the early 1990s, by the expulsion of Croatia's ethnic Serbian minority from the Krajina region and, most recently by Zagreb's recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Still, Josipovic's current two day-trip to Bosnia can be seen as a step forward for regional peacemaking. He is the first president since the Balkan wars to visit a neighboring state and formally apologize for his country's past policies.

On April 14, Josipovic delivered an unprecedented apology to the Bosnian parliament in Sarajevo. "The past should not be forgotten but we cannot live in the past," he said. "To be able to overcome it, whoever committed the crime must face justice and punishment. As for the victims, each and every victim has to be shown respect."

During their tour of central Bosnia today, Josipovic and his Bosnian hosts also paid a joint visit to the village of Grabovici, close to Mostar, where Bosnian Muslim troops killed scores of Bosnian Croat civilians in 1993.

Josipovic is to go later today to southern Hungary to meet Serbian President Boris Tadic and Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom in the town of Pecs. He returns to Zagreb on April 16.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service contributed to this report. With agency reports
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Alex from: Illinois
April 15, 2010 16:37
The author posted under the picture of Josipovic that, "Josipovic is the first Balkan president to formally apologize for his country's crimes." This is untrue. Although, this is a wonderful gesture of peace and a step forward for Croatia, Croatia needs to apologize for Operation Storm and other massacres of Serbs on Croatian territory, as well. The President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, was the first person to apologize for his country's crimes. Serbia was the first of the Balkan nations to pass a parliamentary resolution condemning their war crimes.
In Response

by: Tony from: Vancouver
April 15, 2010 18:30

Operation Storm was a reaction to having 1/3 of Croatia occupied by Serbia. Croats were killed and expelled and with the backing of the JNA and paramilitary irregulars from Serbia.
In Response

by: BS Buster
April 15, 2010 22:22
Never mind the neo-Nazi antics of Croat extremists shortly beforehand.

Meantime, it's high time to stop spoiling the Bosnian Muslim nationalists with the faulty notion that their side was filled with innocense.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
April 15, 2010 20:32
Josipovic did offer a sincere apology for the attempted Croat genocide of Bosniaks (Thank you very much Mr. Josipovic!) Tadic when he came to Srebrenica only made a few noncommittal remarks.
As long as Ratko Mladic is allowed to go free, as long as the result of the Serb genocidal anti-Bosniak crusade "repluka Srpska" is allowed to continue existing and the Serb ethnic cleansing is not reversed, as long as Bosniaks are kept under the thumb and as long as Serbs or Serb leaders contuinue to claim parts of Bosnia and to question its existence as well as the existence, identity and history of Bosniaks, such as in: "there are no Bosniaks, only islamicized Serbs, turncoats, poturi and we fought them only to defend ourselves and ours was a just and holy struggle", as long as Serb children are taught that the war against the Bosniaks was "Just and holy, self-defense, retribution for 500 years of Turkish occupation and for Jasenovac, and there were no 8000 killed at Srebrenica, we killed onlyl 2000 soldiers, it was no genocide, the balije killed 3000 Serbs blah blah blah", I don't care for their half-hearted and insincere "apology". If the Serbs now say "All right, we have apologized, now you forget everything and let us keep the spoils of war" and think they can still ghettoize or exterminate the Bosniaks at a later date, then it is not worth the paper it is written on. This is only a first step, but in any case I am pleased that Dodik and his cronies had no say in formulating it and that they feel betra
Josipovic and the Bosniak leadership would not have gone later to Grabovici where Bosniaks murdered Croats during the war for nothing and certainly not to glorify this act; there was no plan on the Bosniak side to exterminate or expel ALL non-Muslims; but the Serbs on the contrary had such a plan to erase all traces of Muslims in Bosnia and the orders for the Srebrenica genocidecame from the very top! Karadzic himself said to General Krstic "Kill them all, all you can lay hands on!" At least the Bosniaks recently did arrest several of their own wartime commanders who committed gratuitous acts of violence against non-Muslims! Serbia lets Ratko Mladic and his countkless henchmen run free and still considers them as heroes, but to the outside world they go on and on self-victimizing and whitewashing themswelves! What peace and reconciliation can there be with vile, foul and evil people like that!
In Response

by: Mark from: Sydney
April 17, 2010 07:05
Hi Abdul, agree about the comments on Srebrenica - as demonstrated by the redacting of compromising Serbian Defence Council minutes at the ICTY and the controversial implication this had for the ICJ genocide case, Serbian state apparatus including Tadic have avoided transparency over Serbia's role in the genocide. If there is an emphasis on individualising war crimes to avoid imputing collective guilty, so why the secrecy over Serbia's role - surely this revisionism and exercise in moral equivalence is going to undermine this exercise.

Disagree over the Bosnian-Croat conflict - that seems to more resemble a fight over the scraps, and facilitated by population pressures with the influx of brutalised refugees from Western Bosnia into Central Bosnia. The Herceg-Bosnia entity is seen in the worst possible light - I recommend reading Vitomir Raguz's nuanced analysis in his book "Who Saved Bosnia". The entity was not there nor indicative of a desire to split Bosnia - that certainly was an option in the worst case scenario, but more likely to stem from a fait accompli by the West to the politics of Greater Serbia. We have to remember that Herceg-Bosnia was vital in the face of the Sarajevo government's inability to defend its own citizens from a number of perspectives (i) as a forward defence point for both Croatia and BiH; (ii) to stop refugee flows - the population of the Herceg Bosnia entity was over 1/4 million and a refugee flow from here would have overwhelmed a Croatia that was already were overstreched; (iii) as an vehicle for ensuring the constituent status of the Croat people in BiH; (iv) a voice at the BiH table through which the security concerns of Croatia could be articulated; (v) in the worst case scenario, if the West accepted a Greater Serbia, then a redrawing of boundaries on an ethnic basis.

I applaud Josipovic visiting the victims in both Croat & Bosnjiak villages - this was long overdue. However, his reading of 1990's policy is drawn at too high a level of generality, and resembles more a foray into partisan politics, and is conducive to the narrative of the region that talks about moral equivalence and civil wars, as opoposed to one of regional wars waged by an aggressive Serbia.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
April 19, 2010 17:51
Hi Mark,
please remember that the unnecessary "war within the war" was conducted on both sides with incredible cruelty and barbarity. Priceless cultural heritage was destroyed, especially the Stari Most and all mosques and many fine Ottoman houses in Stolac. However, it is good to know that many of those were rebuilt, also with Croat help, and that there is a degree of reconciliation. Unfortunately there is still much tension and animosity between Bosniaks and Croats. Maybe over time that will become less. Nevertheless I met some Croat tourists in Sarajevo and they felt quite at home and at ease, and that is good. Now, I also wish that Bosniaks can come to Croatia to the seaside and not be taunted or provoked because they are Muslims. I have the notion that the war between Croats and Bosniaks was a terrible misunderstanding; but then even Tihomir Blaskic has apologized for war crimes his forces committed; Bosniak authorities have arrested Bosiak commanders who committed war crimes against Croats; in any case President Josipovic, and I also think many Croats are generally much more reasonable and sensible. At least I haven't heard there was any public outcry in Croatia for President Josipovic's gesture. Too bad many Serbs can't be that reasobnable too but instead they continue to sulk in their self-victimization and self-righteousness. Croatia seems much more likely to look forward. but then they could get rid of the breakaway "entity" in their midst and their country was not divided. If there is a winner of the Balkan wars of the 1990s it surely is Croatia.
In Response

by: Bob from: Edmonton
April 17, 2010 15:40
it's more likely that the readers will believe RFE/RL's comments/reporting that that stated by Alex

by: Aleksandar from: Florida
April 15, 2010 21:39

You make it sound so one sided. Alia Izetbegoic's book the "Islamic Declaration made it clear that he wanted a pure Islamic Bosnia where Christian Serbs would once again be second class citizens.

The war was brutal on all sides as evidenced by Ahmici and we all now how the Muslim Nasir Oric and his hench men used the Srebrenica safe haven as launching points to attack and slaugher Serbs in the surrounding areas even on Christmans Day.

And don't get holier than though with me. History does not start in 1992. . How about recounting the Bosniak Handzar divisions of WWII and the Croatian Ustasa . How about sincerely apologizing for the crimes committed by them first.

And yes, like it or not the Bosniaks are Islamicized Serbs or Croats. As far back as antiquity only Serbian and Croatian tribes are mentioned by Byzantine historians. Even the Bosniak langauge is Serbo-Croatian despite all the latest arabic loan words Bosniaks are trying ro incorporate.
In Response

by: Daltonist from: Massachusetts
April 16, 2010 19:27

Why are Serbs always trying to educate all non-Serbs about history and our roots? Surprisingly most of the Serbs portray themselves as some amazing historians of unintelligible mind while most of their information and facts are based on excerpts from Serbian media and propaganda.

Right, according to Serbian history even Croatians are Serbs. Apparently prior to 7th century no one lived in Balkan region, there were no tribes or people and Serbs were the only one to colonize the region. Thats what you believe. Maybe you should do some research in genetics and then talk about "antiquity". Hard facts are immensely difficult to unearth because it is imbedded under a pile of scheming fairy-tales, exaggerated events and subjective narration. I know my roots, do you know the origins of yours?
In Response

by: bob from: Edmonton
April 17, 2010 15:44
yes, your comments are typical of those supporting war criminals and genocidal maniacs from just a few years back in what was a modern civilized European nation; bring up the past, events from WW2, the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, and 1913-14, and so on and so on...maybe we can go back to the Crusades or Ancient Greece to justify crimes committed from 1991 to 1999.
In Response

by: Abdulmajid
April 20, 2010 19:13
Aleksandar, yours is the typical serbofascist chetnik response. It is Radovan Karadzic's rote, word for word. By it you demonstrate that not only do you stand for the Serb anti-Bosniak genocidal crusade, you would commit a new round of ethnic cleansing, rape and murder if you were given the chance. Wether you even were one of Karadzic's chetniks before you came to the USA, or whether maybe onf your anccestors murdered Bosniaks in 1941-45 is something I prefer not to speculate on, but if it were so I would not be surprised.
This is nothing but childish patter and evil blah blah blah. With what right do you say you were only paying back us balije for the alleged sins of our great-great-grandfathers? And since this doens't sound convincing even to you, next you come up with the Islamist boogeyman! The war in Bosnia was completely one-sided. The Serbs had all the weapons and us balije had almost none. But we had courage, and so you haven't won. We haven't surrendered to you and we never will. Your genocidal anti-Bosniak crusade has failed. Milosevic gave up the "Serb" Krajina because the military supply lines were too long and it was not possible for him to hold it. Instead his idea was to settle all the Croatian Serbs in Bosnia to topple the ethnic balance. And here too he failed miserably, most went right on to Serbia. Bosniaks are now 50% of the people in Bosnia and nobody is going to fob them off with 25% of the land, as a Balkan Gaza Strip and West Bank! What are you gonna do when the Bosniaks become the majority in Bosnia in a scant 10 years? Don't tell me, I know, genocide us balije again! And justify it with old history! Don't dare try it!

by: Brazilian Man from: São Paulo - Brazil
May 06, 2010 07:12
“He is the first president since the Balkan wars to visit a neighboring state and formally apologize for his country's past policies.”

And this happened only after more than 15 years of the end of the Croatian involvement in the Yugoslav Wars. A clear proof that the Balkans still has a long way to go.

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