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Croatia leader visits site of wartime massacre of Muslims

SARAJEVO: Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic made an unexpected visit Thursday to the site of a massacre of Muslim civilians by Bosnian Croats during the country’s 1990s war, an atrocity that led to several war crimes convictions.

Grabar-Kitarovic, on an official visit to Bosnia, paid her respects to 116 Muslim civilians, among whom 33 children and women, killed by Bosnian Croats in the village Ahmici in central Bosnia in April 1993.

Such gestures are still rare among leaders in the former Yugoslavia, torn apart by a series of bloody wars in the 1990s.

Read More: UN prosecutor urges Croatian leaders to face up to war-time past

“I like to visit those sites of piety in silence, to bow to the victims and think about the past, but notably with idea that this past does not repeat ever again,” Grabar-Kitarovic told reporters.

Journalists were not present during her visit to Ahmici.

In photos released by her office the Croatian president is seen laying wreaths at a monument for the victims and posing with an imam.

She also visited neighbouring Krizancevo Selo village, where some 90 Croat civilians and military personnel were killed by Muslim forces in December 1993.

The two villages are seen as symbols of the conflict between Bosnia’s Croats and Muslims.

Although allies against ethnic Serbs during most of the war, Croats and Muslims also fought each other in 1993 and 1994.

Grabar-Kitarovic’s predecessor Ivo Josipovic in 2010 also visited the two villlages and was the first Croatian leader to acknowledge the Ahmici massacre victims.

Read More: Bosnian war criminal dies after ‘taking poison’ in UN court

Local imam Mahir Husic said Grabar-Kitatovic’s gesture was a “very important message which advocates peace and co-existence.”

Bosnian Croats sentenced by the UN war crimes court over the Ahmici atrocity included Dario Kordic, vice-president of the self-declared Bosnian Croat state within Bosnia, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail.

In its final verdict in November, the UN court sentenced on appeals six former Bosnian Croat wartime leaders. One of them, Slobodan Praljak, committed suicide drinking poison in the courtroom.

Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war claimed some 100,000 lives.

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