Croatian president honors Serb victims in Bosnia
SIJEKOVAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina—In an effort to promote reconciliation in the Balkans, Croatia's president laid flowers Sunday to honor Serb villagers killed by Croats during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Church bells rang as Croatian President Ivo Josipovic placed bouquets in front of the Serb Orthodox church in the village of Sijekovac, near the Croatian border, where Croatian forces allegedly killed dozens of Serb villagers in what is known as the first atrocity of the Bosnian war.
He was joined by the Bosnian Serb leader and the head of the main Muslim Bosnian party who laid flowers on behalf of the Bosnian Parliament.
"We came to pay tribute to the victims and their families," Josipovic said. "It is important that we are representing all religious groups."
As Yugoslavia was falling apart in the 1990s, Bosnia's Serbs, Croats and Muslims clashed in hostilities that also drew in neighboring Serbia and Croatia. The violence left an estimated 100,000 people dead before it ended in 1995 but the country is still riven by ethnic tensions.
In April, Josipovic told the Bosnian parliament he was sorry for the role Croatia played in the destruction of Bosnia -- the clearest message of reconciliation yet from any leader of the three nationalities involved in Europe's bloodiest post-World War II conflict.
He paid tribute to Bosnian Muslim victims killed by Croats but was then criticized for ignoring Bosnian Serb victims.
Josipovic on Sunday was joined by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and Sulejman Tihic -- the head of the Party of Democratic Action, who represented the Bosnian Muslims in Sijekovac.
"These were innocent people and we came to say that there is no collective guilt. We must make those responsible for crimes face justice," Tihic said.
The trio then headed to the towns of Prijedor and Kozarac in northwest Bosnia, where Bosnian Serbs killed Muslims and Croats during the war.
"Our common message is peace and that people should be able to live with each other again," said Dodik.
He urged Croats expelled from their homes in Bosnia to return. Most Bosnian Croats fled to Croatia and Dodik promised he will soon go there and invite them personally to come back.
Ruza Trivic, 53, survived the killings in Sijekovac by running to the woods before Croatian soldiers reached her house that day in March 1992. Almost 30 villagers did not make it.
"To me, this is first a confession that Croatia has committed these crimes," Trivic said. "Now we can talk about reconciliation."