EU urges Croatia, Serbia to reconcile
(ZAGREB) - EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele on Monday urged Croatia and Serbia to settle their disputes over war crimes after their relations hit the lowest point since the end of the 1991-1995 conflict.
"I believe that... politicians on both sides will find the way out (and) would contribute to cooling down the emotions and work to the benefit of the whole region, the benefit of reconciliation," Fuele told reporters in the Croatian capital, Zagreb.
The relations between the two former foes, which had gradually improved during the past several years, began to deteriorate when Serbian nationalist leader Tomislav Nikolic was elected president in May.
They dramatically worsened earlier this month when a UN war crimes court cleared on appeal two Croatian generals -- Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.
The two were intially convicted and sentenced to 24 and 18 years in jail respectively for the murder of 324 Serbs and the forced displacement of 90,000 others during and after an operation that ended the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.
Unlike in Croatia, where the generals are considered heroes and their acquittal was celebrated, in Serbia the verdict was condemned by groups as diverse as extreme-right nationalists, liberal left-wingers and human rights activists.
Remarks by Nikolic in an interview earlier Monday further fuelled the rift between Belgrade and Zagreb.
"It is not going well with Croatia," Nikolic told Serbian daily Kurir.
"Croatians know that the crime committed in the (August 1995) operation Storm is awful, but they still celebrate that no one was convicted. They are a nation on a wrong path," he said.
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic immediately responded that such statements "do not contribute to reconciliation."
"The situation should be cooled down and once Nikolic changes his rhetoric, conditions will be met for mutual meetings," Josipovic told Croatian national radio.
But Nikolic said his Croatian counterpart wanted "us to talk -- me as the president of a nation which has committed crimes, and him as the president of a nation which has not been convicted of anything."
Croatia's proclamation of independence from the former Yugoslavia sparked the war with Belgrade-backed rebel Serbs who opposed the move.