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Balkans: Yugoslav, Croat, Bosnian Leaders Meet In Sarajevo

The presidents of Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina met in Sarajevo today in their first summit since the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended 3 1/2 years of fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. RFE/RL reports that property rights, social protection, the return of refugees, economic cooperation, and trade were on the agenda.

Prague, 15 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The leaders of Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia, meeting today in Sarajevo, issued a joint declaration pledging cooperation on property rights, refugee returns, trade, and the fight against terrorism and organized crime.

The signatories declared that, "the path to European integration depends not only on good neighborly relations but on the outcome of domestic democratization and acceptance of European standards."

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica; Croat President Stipe Mesic; and the three members of Bosnia's collective presidency, Beriz Belkic, Zivko Radisic, and Jozo Krizanovic signed the "Sarajevo declaration." It was the first meeting of the heads of the three countries since the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war.

The document pledges full cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, expresses a willingness to facilitate the return of refugees, and notes that good relations are the "only basis on which it is possible to build and maintain regional stability."

Belkic, who is the presiding head of Bosnia's three-member presidency, said the declaration would "lead to the stabilization and economic integration of the region."

"The Bosnian side called on its neighbors not to support divisions of institutions and systems needed for the normal functioning of the state. Above all, I mean communications, the energy system, education, the intelligence services, and the army, and so on. Bosnia needs to have unified systems," Belkic said.

In an interview with the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni Avaz" today, Belkic also said Croatia and Yugoslavia owe Bosnia an apology for trying to divide the country between themselves a decade ago. Belkic said he expects the Belgrade leadership that ousted former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic "to find the courage to acknowledge that the former authorities caused terrible damage to Bosnia, and to apologize."

Over the weekend, a Bosnian-Muslim youth group pasted up posters around Sarajevo showing a well-known photograph of Yugoslav President Kostunica brandishing a rifle during the Kosovo conflict. The poster demanded that Kostunica apologize for the Bosnian massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica seven years ago. Local authorities removed the posters early this morning just hours before the Yugoslav president's arrival.

Speaking for Yugoslavia, Kostunica emphasized the maintenance of Yugoslavia's and the international community's interests. "Our loyalty to the [1995] Dayton-accords principle was confirmed -- that means an internationally recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina based both on three nations and two entities. Today we also covered issues of cooperation and integration in new areas and most importantly, a solution to what is of so much concern to world powers, the return of refugees, displaced persons, questions of their property, unemployment, and all related issues," Kostunica said.

Croatian President Mesic emphasized the need for greater freedom of movement across borders. "We must liberalize the visa regime to better enable citizens and capital to cross borders. The border shouldn't obstruct but should be more open," Mesic said.

Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and Croatia maintain diplomatic relations with each other, the most recent addition being the establishment of diplomatic relations between Bosnia and Yugoslavia in December 2000.

The summit was greeted by leading Bosnian Serb leaders as a "guarantee of peace in this part of Europe" and by another as "a step forward in relations among these countries."

However, a leading Bosnian-Muslim daily, "Oslobodjenje," commented that Bosnia today is the weakest and most damaged spot in the Balkans and is not an equal partner with its two bigger neighbors.

Belkic and Mesic are expected to sign a treaty on dual citizenship between Bosnia and Yugoslavia. The summit participants also held an informal meeting with the international community's recently appointed high representative for Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown.

In advance of the summit, Ashdown issued a statement saying "the time has come to focus efforts on the road ahead, which leads to integration in the European mainstream."

(RFE/RL's Sarajevo bureau contributed to this report.)