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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman
Press conference at Presidential Palace
Zagreb, Croatia, May 31, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, June 3, 1997
U.S. Department of State

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SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am pleased to have met with President Tudjman on my first stop in this region since becoming Secretary of State. I just came from the NATO ministerial in Sintra. We were there with the 16 member nations of our alliance and with over a dozen other European nations that are striving with us to build an undivided Europe. We believe that Croatia's future lies in the democratic community we are building. We hold Croatia to the standards of that community, not to the standards of this region's autocratic and violent past.
Today, the President and I spoke about the additional progress Croatia must make to open Europe's doors. The most urgent need is for persons of every ethnic group to be able to return home in safety, including Croatian Serb refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Serbia. I will be going to Kostajnica in the Krajina today to see first-hand the results of attacks on those who have tried to reclaim their homes. The Croatian Government must prevent the violence we have seen there from happening again. This is in Croatia's self-interest, for Croatia will not travel the road to Europe unless all its people--Croats, Serbs and all others-- make the journey. Nor can it achieve a true and lasting peace. The lesson of the last six years is clear: either all communities will live in security or no community will live in security.
A related challenge is the full re-integration of Eastern Slavonia, a goal UNTAES has done so much to advance. We want to see this happen as soon as possible. We want to see conditions created that will permit the early return of displaced Croats. But for that to happen, much more progress must be made to permit Croatian Serbs in Eastern Slavonia to return home as well. In other words, a multiethnic Eastern Slavonia depends on a multiethnic Croatia. Croatia's performance in protecting its residents of all nationalities is a test of its readiness to assume responsibility for all its territory.
We also spoke today about the need to fully implement the Dayton Agreement. Croatia's active support for Dayton is vital, especially its support for the Federation. I told the President that we welcome Foreign Minister Granic's pledge yesterday in Sintra to use Croatia's influence to strengthen the Federation.
Cooperation with the war crimes tribunal is also a fundamental responsibility of Dayton. I applaud President Tudjman's decision to transfer Zlatko Aleksovski to the Hague. But further action is essential. Croatia must ensure that indicted persons cannot seek haven here, use its influence to gain cooperation from the Bosnian Croats, and provide the tribunal with the information it requests.
We also discussed the need to open trade routes to allow Bosnian goods to reach foreign markets. President Tudjman has said that Croatia will start by opening the road bridge at Brcko, which I will visit tomorrow. We will open the bridge tomorrow and other trade routes. I expressed strong concerns about restrictions on independent media, especially broadcasting.
Let me thank President Tudjman again for his welcome today, and I look forward to continued dialogue and continued progress in all the areas. Thank you.
PRESIDENT TUDJMAN: The Croatian side highly appreciates the visit of the Secretary of State, Madam Albright, as her first official visit to this region. We consider this a sign of good and friendly relations between the United States of America and the Republic of Croatia, since the establishment of independent Croatia, and especially since the Washington and the Dayton accords, to the present day.
We have had a fairly long talk. We discussed in an open and friendly manner all the problems and issues, including those where our governments do not coincide because Croatia has its own national interests, whereas the United States of America, as the leading global superpower, also has the responsibility of its role and therefore has its own views. However, the discussions have demonstrated that these differences are not essential and they were along the lines of our close bilateral relations as well as along the lines of cooperation in the solution of the highly complex problems of today.
Croatia, of course, is interested in the successful completion of the UNTAES mandate. So far we have achieved major success in this effort, thanks to the cooperation between the transitional administration under the head of General Klein and the Croatian Government, thanks also to the fact that a considerable part of the Serbian population has accepted the constitutional and judicial system of Croatia. We have had elections, and now local authorities are being established there in line with the Croatian system. We highly appreciate the statement just made by the Madam Secretary that the United States also supports the completion of peaceful reintegration as soon as possible.
We have acquainted the State Secretary with the fact that Croatia is ready to return all the Serbian refugees from the western part of Croatia and currently in the eastern Danubian area. They can either return home or, if they wish to do so, accept fair compensation for their property. We are also prepared for humanitarian reasons and on an individual basis to accept all Serbian refugees who left Croatia of their own free will and are currently in Serbia or Yugoslavia. We have also acquainted the United States delegation that so far, out of 250,000 Croatian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, none has yet been able to return either to Bosnia-Herzegovina or to the eastern Danubian area, whereas 14,000 Serbs have already been able to return to the western parts of Croatia. Of course, conditions will be provided for the majority of Croatian displaced persons to return to the eastern Danubian area as peaceful reintegration goes to a successful completion.
The Croatian authorities and the Croatian Government guarantee all human and ethnic rights to the Serbs as well as to the other ethnic minorities--Italians, Hungarians, and so forth. We have acquainted the state secretary with the fact that there are more than 40,000 Serbs living in Zagreb, and more than 100,000 living between here and Rijeka. The Serbs are present in parliament, at the university, in the Supreme and Constitutional courts. Several Serbs are Ambassadors of the Republic of Croatia, and therefore, for all practical purposes, Croatia is not embarking upon any policy of ethnic purity, but rather recognizes fully all human and ethnic rights of all ethnic communities living in this country, including the Serbs.
Of course, here, in this regard, we are faced with very complex tasks. We still have to heal the wounds caused by the Yugo-Communist aggression and the Serbian uprising, and our government, our authorities, are sparing no effort in this regard, in spite of the discontent on the part of close to half a million of Croatian displaced persons who have suffered losses--losses of life and losses of property. Let me just mention that 143,000 Croatian homes were burned in the latest, during the latest, recent events. Therefore, it is now our task to create as soon as possible the conditions for healing these wounds of the past and creating the conditions for coexistence.
Croatia is also ready to cooperate with The Hague tribunal in accordance with the law which was just passed in parliament. We have acquainted the State Secretary that Croatia expects The Hague tribunal to be more impartial, more objective in the approach also to the other sides involved, and the Croatian public is criticizing both me and the Croatian Government and saying that it is only Croatia that is complying with the provisions as opposed to their other sides.
As regards the implementation of the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia, it has not been implemented to satisfactory terms, neither from the Croatian angle. We have assured the State Secretary that the Croatian Government, directly and by bringing its influence to bear on the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is doing everything to provide full and consistent implementation of the Washington and Dayton accords. We have also pointed out that the crisis in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina is certainly one of the most intricate crises in the world today, and this is being fully expressed in the differences between the three civilizations involved. This is why a lot of renewal will be required in order to arrive at a solution which will help prevent all the conflict which we have witnessed in the region since the past century.
Croatia has been and will continue to be a constructive factor and subject in the solution of that difficult crisis, in the normalization of relations, and in the establishment of the new international order in the region. We know our place, the place of the politically and economically stable Croatia, and we also know the role the United States is playing--the leading superpower--in the solution of this difficult crisis. We shall do everything in order to sustain the cooperation between the United States of America and the Republic of Croatia, and on lines of mutual respect, dialogue, so as to contribute most fruitfully and successfully to the development of relations between our two countries, both in the interest of the leading role the United States is playing in the region and in the interest of a stable new international order and peace in the region. And in this context we also agree that the Croatian prime minister should take part tomorrow with the State Secretary in the ceremony of the opening of the bridge at Brcko.
QUESTION: Mr. President Tudjman, I would like to ask why you why it was impossible for the Croatian government to prevent the violence in Kostajnica, and whether you have given guarantees to Secretary Albright that such violence will not happen again?
PRESIDENT TUDJMAN: The Croatian authorities were not capable of preventing these incidents because this return was not organized and it was even contrary to the agreement reached between the Croatian Government, the UNTAES, and the UNHCR. Had that been the case, the Croatian authorities would have prevented, or at least endeavored to prevent, such untoward developments. But, as a whole--and let me remind you of the example of 14,000 Serbs who have already been able to come back--we can be satisfied with the state of affairs, because we have seen no major incident situation such as the one which occurred in Kostajnica.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I disagreed with President Tudjman on the subject as a part of what was clearly a very frank discussion, and we want to make sure, in fact, that there is freedom of movement and that Croatian Serbs who wish to return to their homes are able to do so.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, when you say disagree, is it your view, given your background in this area, that the Croatian Government can prevent the burning of the 15 houses or so--can get to the grassroots and really overcome the hostility that exists at that level?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Clearly, there is a very complicated situation that exists throughout the region and where there are numbers of displaced people and refugees and people that are in the wrong houses --
PRESIDENT TUDJMAN: Let me just add to this particular question that according to my information--and my Vice Premier and Minister of Reconstruction can confirm my words--it is not 15 houses that were burned but only one. And so this is also an example of how the international public is being informed about certain developments. Of course, it goes without saying that we do not approve such developments and we are doing everything in our power to prevent them. However, if we look at the context, it should be remembered that the members of this very same Serbian community were guilty of burning down 143,000 homes, plus churches, schools--all vestiges of everything Croatian--and, therefore, such incidents as the one in Kostajnica cannot be and should not be regarded in isolation from what happened in the past, in the recent past.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: If I may continue with my answer. The issue here is that, as I said, it's a complicated situation. However, I believe that it is the appropriate role of the leadership of every country to provide the moral direction for the reintegration of these societies, and I asked President Tudjman to provide that kind of leadership.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you mentioned also the return of refugees to Eastern Slavonia. Will the U.S. help in this effort and to what extent?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The United States has, in fact, been helping all along in the effort of making sure that the reintegration of Eastern Slavonia is done according to the Erdut Agreement, and we want to make sure that all the aspects of that agreement are carried out, that Croatians are able to be in their homes and Croatian Serbs are able to be in their homes, and that there is the kind of reintegration that is appropriate for a multiethnic country.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, may I ask you a question please? We have just heard President Tudjman claim that the Croats are the only ones fully cooperating with the war crimes tribunal, which is an extraordinary statement. We have also heard him being quoted in the last week saying that it would be insane to have all the refugees repatriated. We have now heard quibbling about the numbers of houses that have been burned down. We also know that the Serbs here in Zagreb are being harassed as we speak. There seems to be a disconnect between facts and fiction. My question is, since the United States is the only country with the power to change things in this whole region, when does a time come to move beyond tough talk and to take tough action, and what kind of tough action are you prepared to take?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say first of all that we feel very strongly that all parties need to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal, which is an integral part of the Dayton Accord. To the best of my knowledge, the Bosniaks have cooperated with the war crimes tribunal, and I have now spoken with President Tudjman on the subject and I will clearly raise the subject with President Milosevic. I will also raise it with the authorities of Republika Srpska. The United States has also made very clear that there will not be full integration within the international community until there is cooperation with the war crimes tribunal. And in my visit to the war crimes tribunal, I told the prosecutor, Louise Arbour, that we would be looking at ways to strengthen our support for the tribunal.
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