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The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Belgrade
"Many people in Serbia are looking forward to a warming of relations with Croatia"
 real 28k

Thursday, 10 February, 2000, 18:21 GMT
Croat president invites Serb return

Vukovar Vukovar was the Croatian city worst hit during the Yugoslav war


The newly-elected President of Croatia, Stipe Mesic, says the country will accept the return of more than 300,000 ethnic-Serb refugees who were driven out of their homes five years ago.

Mr Mesic also said he was ready to testify against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Stipe Mesic Stipe Mesic is ready to see Serbs return
He was speaking in an interview with the Serbian opposition TV station Studio B.

The ethnic Serbs were driven out of Croatia in August 1995 during a lightning military operation to retake areas of the country still under Serb control following the Yugoslav war.

Mr Mesic said all refugees were victims of a war which they had not caused and they should be allowed to return home.

Croatia has in the past insisted that those wishing to return should first apply for Croatian citizenship. But Mr Mesic said nationality was no longer an issue.

He said Croats and Muslims must be allowed to return to Serb areas in Bosnia. This would free up jobs and homes in Croatia for returning Serb refugees, he said.

Ready to testify

Mr Mesic went on to say he was ready to testify against President Milosevic and the Serbian military leadership in The Hague, "because they committed a coup".

Mr Mesic said that in 1991, when he was a member of the presidency of the former Yugoslavia, he had issued two orders for the army to return to barracks as the country started to break up.

Veljko Kadijevic Veljko Kadijevic should be in The Hague, says Mesic
"In this way the conditions to solve political problems through political means would have been created. Unfortunately, the military leadership have opted for the coup," he said.

He said Serbian Generals Blagoje Adzic and Veljko Kadijevic, who was then Yugoslav defence minister, should be tried at the Hague.

"We welcome this new sign of the Croatian Government's top-level commitment to co-operate with the tribunal," said US State Department spokesman James Rubin.

Mr Mesic has already testified before the ICTY, in 1998.

Elections

Mr Mesic's statements come after a series of recent political changes which have brought to power a government in Zagreb promising to end the nationalist policies of the late former president Franjo Tudjman, who died last December.


As soon as Yugoslavia becomes democratic, when it begins to look towards Europe, when they understand that minorities are a bridge of co-operation and not a reason for seizure of territories, we will be ready for co-operation
Stipe Mesic
Social democrats and liberals ousted the former president's HDZ party in January's parliamentary elections, and a new six-party coalition government and has started to confront deep economic problems and widespread corruption.

Mr Mesic will give less backing than his predecessor to Croat nationalists in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, and promote closer ties with the European Union and Nato.

He encouraged Serbian opposition parties to follow the example of the Croatian opposition.

"As soon as Yugoslavia becomes democratic, when it begins to look towards Europe, when they understand that minorities are a bridge of co-operation and not a reason for seizure of territories, we will be ready for co-operation," he said.

However, he said there would be no official contact between the new Croatian Government and the Serbian opposition.

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See also:
10 Feb 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Problems hinder return to Croatia
28 Jan 00 |  Europe
Analysis: Mesic's return
24 Jan 00 |  Europe
Croats vote for change
25 Jan 00 |  Europe
EU welcomes Croatia vote
11 Dec 99 |  Europe
Analysis: Contemplating life without Tudjman
19 Jan 98 |  Europe
Serb mayor goes on trial for war crimes
15 Jan 98 |  World
Croatian war is over

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