Tadić apologizes during Vukovar visit

VUKOVAR -- Serbian and Croatian presidents Boris Tadić and Ivo Josipović have placed wreaths to honor Croat victims at a memorial in Ovčara, near Vukovar.

Josipović and Tadić meet (Tanjug)
Josipović and Tadić meet (Tanjug)

The two leaders also visited a memorial for Serb civilians killed in the town of Paulin Dvor. Both towns saw executions of prisoners and civilians during the war in 1991.

"I am here to once again offer words of apology, to express regret and create a possibility for Serbs and Croats, Serbia and Croatia, to turn a new page of history," said Tadić in Ovčara.

According to him, by admitting to crimes, apologizing and expressing regret, possibilities are created for reconciliation.

"Everything that happened to Serbs and Croats in the twentieth century can be put in the book of the past, which in itself would be an act of writing a book of the future," Tadić said.

Josipović said that Ovcara is a place of pain and suffering of the victims of a senseless policy.

"We have come to pay respects to the victims, express our condolences, but also to promise that no crime will go unpunished," he said.

Josipović expressed belief that this event will help boost the efforts in shedding light on the fate of the missing persons and in establishing good neighborly relations, underscoring that a different policy, one of peace and friendship, proves possible. In Paulin Dvor, Josipović said that the victims commemorated there "deserve an apology".

He also noted that there is "no excuse for any crime", and that his country is determined to prosecute criminals.

Tadić was accompanied by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister for EU Integration Božidar Đelić, National Assembly General Secretary Veljko Odalović, President of the Vojvodina provincial government Bojan Pajtić, President of Bač municipality Tomislav Bogunović and Ambassador of the Netherlands to Serbia Laurent Stokvis.

Tadić was welcomed by Josipović, Vukovar Mayor Željko Sabo, as well as Dutch and Serbian ambassadors to Croatia, Stella Ronner-Grubačić and Stanimir Vukićević.

President Tadić's visit to Ovčara near Vukovar, the execution site of 261 Croat prisoners of war and civilians, drew the attention of numerous journalists, and security measures have been intensified along the road.

The Ovčara monument is located in the hangar where Croatian captives and civilians were imprisoned. After being shot, they were buried in a mass grave.

200 bodies were recovered, while 61 persons are still missing. 15 persons have been found guilty of committing this crime, and received a total of 207 years in prison in trials conducted in Serbia, and at the Hague Tribunal.

Ahead of the unofficial visit today, most Croatian politicians have welcomed the Serbian president’s visit and assessed that it is a “historical” event, while far-right Croatian Party of Rights (HSP) has announced peaceful protests over the first visit of a high state official from Serbia to places where crimes were committed during the war.