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Britain's Prince Charles Urges Reconciliation In The Balkans

Charles, Prince of Wales, speaks in the Serbian parliament in Belgrade on March 17.
Charles, Prince of Wales, speaks in the Serbian parliament in Belgrade on March 17.

Britain's Prince Charles has called for reconciliation in the conflict-ravaged Balkans, urging the region's nations to work for peace and not become prisoners of their history.

While peace and stability have returned to the Balkans since the 1990s' ethnic wars, Charles said more needs to be done to preserve the momentum of peace, in a speech to the Serbian parliament in Belgrade on March 17 as he visited the region.

"Every society and country is molded by its past, but there can be few places on Earth where one feels the weight of history more than in the Balkans," he said. "No one should forget or ignore that history but, even more importantly, it is important not to become prisoners of it."

Charles recalled how in 1979, his own great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, was killed in a "horrific" bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army, bringing home the agony of civil war to his own family.

"I feel, therefore, that I have at least some understanding, through my own experience, of the heart-rending anguish that so many families in this region, of whatever nationality, race or religion, have experienced through the loss of loved ones," he said.

"After many years of reflection and, indeed, despair at the pointless cruelty and destruction we witness around the world, my own conclusion is this: that only reconciliation offers the assurance that our children and grandchildren will not suffer the same agonies as our generation," he said.

Charles pointed to the 1998 agreement that brought peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland after decades of violence.

"It is my profound hope that the countries of the Western Balkans will be similarly changed by your quest for enduring peace," he said.

More than 100,000 people were killed and 1 million were displaced during the war that erupted after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Although Balkan countries have improved relations as they sought to join the European Union in recent years, tensions continue to simmer under the surface.

Charles said that "reconciliation requires the commitment of everyone, from the leaders of states and faiths to the ordinary people in their towns and villages... The importance of maintaining this momentum cannot be overstated."

Charles and his wife, Camilla, visited Croatia earlier in the week and will travel to Montenegro and Kosovo after their stay in Belgrade.

While their visit comes amid a monumental migrant crisis affecting the region, the royal couple did not visit any refugee centers.

Camilla met with a group caring for wartime rape victims in eastern Croatia, while Charles held meetings with religious leaders in both Croatia and Serbia.

In Kosovo, they will take part in a memorial ceremony for those missing since the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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