News 10 Dec 12

Croatian, Serbian Officials Meet Following ICTY Verdicts

The Serbian and Croatian high officials have met for the first time since the ICTY acquittal of two Croatian generals in an effort to restore cooperation after their relations worsened over the last several months.

Marija Ristic and Boris Pavelic
BIRN
Belgrade, Zagreb

Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, met his Croatian counterpart, Neven Mimica, on Saturday on the sidelines of an international conference held in Washington DC.

This is the first time that high officials of both countries meet following the Hague Tribunal, ICTY, acquittal of the two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, for war crimes committed in 1995.

Josipovic Calls for 'Catharsis'

The Croatian president, Ivo Josipovic, said Saturday in the Croatian city of Split that the cooperation between the two countries would continue and strengthen "when conditions are met".

"Relations are obviously cooling, probably because of the changed political attitudes in Serbia and because of dissatisfaction with the ICTY acquittal of Croatian generals," Josipovic said.

"But I do not see any reason not to continue cooperation, and when conditions are met, I'm sure it will strengthen", Josipovic said.

In an interview to the Serbian broadcaster B92, which was aired Saturday, Josipovic called for "catharsis" in both countries.

"We (Croatia) had a phase when thesis prevailed that during a defensive war crimes could not have been perpetrated. We passed that phase. Now we are in the phase when we try to treat all crimes equally as much as possible," Josipovic said, adding that "there is an absolute commitment to prosecuting war crimes in Croatia".

He thinks that Serbia also has to have its own catharsis.

"When talking about (Serbian) soldiers who died in Croatia, I'm sorry they were there, but I think time has to come for people in Serbia to ask themselves: why they were there at all? Why soldiers, tanks and planes from Serbia went to Croatia?" Josipovic asked.

After the meeting, the Croatian government issued a press release saying that “in the light of the recent events in the Serbian and Croatian relationship, the ministers noted their differing views on the recent past,” adding that the meeting was focused on the future of both countries.

“Vucic and Mimica both noted difference in interpreting the past and tried to find pragmatic basis for future cooperation from which both sides would benefit,” reads the statement issued by the Serbian government on Saturday.

This is also the first meeting between the high officials of both countries since the formation of the new government in Serbia this summer.

The acquittal of the two Croatian generals by the Hague Tribunal, had further cooled down the Serbian-Croatian relations, which were already shaken when the Serbian president, Tomislav Nikolic, who came to power in May this year, made controversial statements to a German newspapers that the Croatian town of Vukovar is a Serb town.

On Friday, on the sidelines of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Ministerial Conference held in Dublin, the Serbian Foreign Minister, Ivan Mrkic, met with the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs and EU Integration, Vesna Pusic.

During the meeting Pusic said that people in Croatia are aware of the crimes that were committed during the Croatian military operation Storm in 1995, and that measures would be taken against the perpetrators.

"Taking into consideration the circumstances created by the Hague Tribunal’s bias and the atmosphere that arose as a result, the meeting was good and focused on the fields of cooperation that could be in the interest and to the benefit of both countries," the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a press release.

According to the press release, Mrkic and Pusic reached an agreement on what further steps in the EU integration process would be, and discussed future visits,  which would pave the way for a meeting between the prime ministers of the two states.

It was also agreed to carry out appropriate procedures for joint projects of border cooperation between the Serbian and Croatian municipalities.

Speaking about the Serbian reaction to the recent ICTY verdicts, Pusic said that "if our neighbours or anyone else has any objections to the ICTY's judgment, these cannot and should not be addressed to Croatia, but to the United Nations and the Security Council."

 "We want good relations in the region and will continue working towards them. Respect for international judicial institutions and procedures must be a contribution and not an obstacle to such cooperation," Pusic added.

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