"Most NATO countries won't take part in Storm parade"

Most NATO member-states will not send their soldiers to a military parade in Zagreb that will on August 5 celebrate the 20th anniversary of Operation Storm.

Source: B92, Jutarnji list

The reason, writes the Zagreb-based daily Jutarnji List, is their desire "not to fan the flames of conflict in the region."

It was announced earlier that Zagreb invited all NATO members to take part in the parade.

The paper said that "although there were announcements that U.S. F-16 warplanes from the Aviano base could take part - this will not happen."

German and British soldiers will also not participate, according to this source.

The daily said that the Croatian Ministry of Defense stressed that the arrival of three high ranking American generals will be a high-enough level - along with the military attache.

The ministry also claims that "all foreign ambassadors posted in Croatia will attend the parade - which will be the first time that diplomats will attend the celebration of the military Operation Storm on such a level" - and that this will "finally give Operation Storm its international political legitimacy."

But other sources quoted by the newspaper disagree, and consider the outcome to be "a great fiasco."

"Unless they take part in the parade with their boots, everything else is marginal. The United States is Croatia's main military ally and if their soldiers don't take part in the parade, that is one big slap for our country," said the daily' interlocutors.

Meanwhile, the Croatian Ministry of Defense has still not announced who will take part in the parade. So far, only Slovenia has confirmed its presence - with Minister Andreja Katic saying she will not be present as she has a vacation planned - but that ten guard soldiers and three Pilatus planes will be sent to Croatia.

The Croatian paper also reports that during the past week Croatia engaged in "fierce lobbying" to persuade the U.S. to send its troops - as their presence would mean "strong support for the Croatian policy and a clear message that Operation Storm was, as far as they are concerned, a legitimate operation during which crimes that Croatia has been accused of did not happen."

But, the article observed, "it seems it is still too early for such a decision."

U.S. State Department official Victoria Nuland, who was in Dubrovnik last week for a conference, was reportedly "reserved about the possibility" of American soldiers taking part in the parade.

"A big mistake"

The daily further quoted its sources who said it was "a big political mistake to link the parade to (Operation) Storm," and added:

"Regardless of the fact that our generals have been freed (of war crimes charges), that genocide lawsuits and counter-lawsuits (between Croatia and Serbia) have been thrown out, and that we also legally proved that no crimes were committed during the operation, foreign diplomacies are still shy of being associated with that event. By inviting foreign soldiers we in fact asked those countries to declare himself in favor or against Storm - and such alignment does not suit any country at this time."

But Jutarnji List's Ministry of Defense sources "do not agree with such thinking, and claim that the celebration is not directed against anyone."

According to the article, Serbia also took part in the diplomatic battle, "lobbying to prevent foreign soldiers from going to Zagreb."

Previously, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic warned that participation of foreign troops in the Operation Storm anniversary parade would be considered an anti-Serb gesture by their countries, while Serbian Defense Minister Bratislav Gasic noted that the parade is set to celebrate crime.

The Croatian paper belies that the United States at this moment want to avoid straining its relationship with Serbia - "above all because of Kosovo, but also because of Macedonia - they want to push Belgrade as far away from Russia as possible, and American participation (in the parade) would certainly not contribute to that."

The daily offers as proof of "how much the U.S. cares about Serbia's opinion" the fact that Nuland "traveled to Belgrade as well, after Dubrovnik."

"Serbs will participate"

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic caused strong negative reactions in Serbia earlier this week when she said that "Serbs, too, will participate in the celebration."

She said that the deputy mayor of Knin, Zeljko Dzepina, a Serb, took part in a meeting held in that town to discuss activities for the August 5 celebration, and concluded:

"Therefore, Serbs here in Knin will also take part in that celebration and we want to stress that it is not directed against anyone, instead it is only about celebrating what our defenders did for us and all those who defended Croatia."

Miodrag Linta, who heads an association of Serbs expelled from Croatia, and is "otherwise a fierce critic of Croatia," reacted to this by condemning the announcement Dzepina would take part in the celebrations, and saying that Operation Storm "had the goal" of forcing 220,000 Serbs to leave their homes, while more that 2,000 were killed.

"The said facts show that Croatia, each August 5 in Knin, celebrates the biggest ethnic cleansing in Europe after the Second World War," Linta said.

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