Serbia's president calls for reconciliation with Croatia


SERBIA’S president, Boris Tadic, has called for reconciliation with Croatia at the site of one of the most notorious massacres of the 1990s Yugoslav wars as he seeks to improve Belgrade’s relations with its neighbours and boost its bid to join the European Union.

Mr Tadic made his latest push for Balkan reconciliation in Vukovar, a Croatian town that was besieged from August-November 1991 by Serb-led Yugoslav forces and Serb militias.

The Serbs razed the town with almost constant shelling, but a lightly armed force of about 1,800 Croatian volunteers held their more powerful adversary at bay for three months, giving Croatian forces time to arm and prepare for the grinding war of independence that would follow.

More than 1,000 Croats were killed during the siege, including some 260 that Serb forces dragged out of Vukovar hospital and executed at a nearby pig farm at Ovacara. About 5,000 Croat civilians were also taken prisoner after Vukovar fell, and 22,000 non-Serbs were expelled from the region, which the United Nations reintegrated into Croatia in 1998.

“I am here to pay respect to the victims, to say words of apology, to show regret and create a possibility for Serbia and Croatia to turn a new page,” Mr Tadic said yesterday at Ovacara after laying a wreath at a memorial alongside Croatian president Ivo Josipovic.

“Our children must not be burdened by policies of the 1990s. Serbia wants good neighbourly relations and co-operation,” Mr Tadic said. “Many barriers will have to be broken to reach a real reconciliation between Croat and Serb people . . . which should be our ultimate goal.” Mr Josipovic said Mr Tadic’s visit to Vukovar – the first by a top Serb official – showed “we are capable of pursuing different politics of peace and friendship”.

“Today’s events will motivate us to further develop neighbourly ties, and continue to investigate the fate of the missing persons.”

Croatia is still looking for about 1,000 people who disappeared during the war, including some 400 from Vukovar.

Mr Tadic yesterday returned documents taken from the town by Serb forces in 1991, but a small group of relatives of the missing and dead protested against his visit.

Serbia’s pro-western government hopes its efforts to improve Balkan relations – and to open talks with Kosovo despite refusing to accept its independence – will help its bid for EU membership.