Croatian president honors victims of both Croat and Bosniak atrocities

By Aida Cerkez-robinson, AP
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Croatian president honors war victims in Bosnia

AHMICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Croatia’s president paid tribute on Thursday to victims of massacres during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, in the clearest message of reconciliation yet from a leader of the three nationalities that fought in Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II.

President Ivo Josipovic had the Islamic and Catholic religious leaders in Bosnia join him in central Bosnia, where he promised “never again” to the survivors in Ahmici, a village where Croat forces killed 116 Muslim Bosniak civilians in 1993.

The same pledge was made in the neighboring village of Krizancevo Selo, where the Bosnian army killed dozens of Catholic Croats the same year.

A few dozen of the Muslim Bosniak women who survived the April 16, 1993, massacre in Ahmici came to see Josipovic, grand mufti Mustafa Ceric and Cardinal Vinko Puljic stand shoulder to shoulder and bow their heads for a moment of silence in front of a wall that contains the 116 names of the victims.

“It wasn’t easy for him. It wasn’t easy for me,” Vahida Ahmic, 64, said afterward. “But he came today. I came today. We now can go on. Proceed to the future,” the Muslim Bosniak said.

Ahmic survived the massacre and saved her son by disguising him when the Croat forces were going house to house, killing men and boys. She made the then 23-year-old Enver wear a scarf and a skirt so that the killers missed him.

Passing over dead bodies, the Ahmics ran to a main road and stopped a vehicle of the U.N. peacekeepers that saved them.

Another survivor, 80-year-old Zineta Ahmic, lost her husband during the killings.

On Thursday, Ahmic — who is not related to the other Ahmic family — said she only leaves her house these days to see a doctor because she can hardly walk.

“But I came to see this,” she said, referring to the reconciliation ceremony. “I had to see this. After this, things will take the right turn here.”

Josipovic left white roses and a note that said “to the innocent victims - the President of the Republic of Croatia” at the monument next to the mosque in Ahmici.

Josipovic, Ceric and Puljic conducted a similar ceremony at a huge cross overlooking neighboring Krizancevo Selo.

During attacks there over several months in 1993, the Bosnian army killed dozens of Croat soldiers and civilians.

Each time the shooting ended, survivor Andja Grbavac said Thursday, she would peak out her window and see “dead bodies all over.”

Grbavac, 73, now walks with a cane and rarely goes very far. But the Catholic Croat had her granddaughter help her up the hill toward the monument to see President Josipovic.

“I would have crawled up today,” she said, after making it only halfway up the slope as Josipovic’s convoy passed by.

“I know he was over there, too,” she said, pointing over the hill toward Ahmici. “It’s good that he went to both places,” she said.

On Wednesday, Josipovic apologized to Bosnia’s parliament for his country’s role in the Bosnian war, doing more for reconciliation than any other leader of the three nationalities involved in Bosnia’s war has done.

As Yugoslavia was falling apart in the 1990s, the leaders of its republics of Serbia and Croatia planned to carve up Bosnia — positioned between them — and annex half each. Bosnia’s Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks also fought in a conflict that drew in the neighboring republics and took 100,000 Bosnian lives.

“I’m deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia … has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today,” Josipovic told Bosnia’s parliament.

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