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Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Croatian Minister for Reconstruction and Development
Jure Radic
Remarks at burned-out house
Prevrsac, 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: Thank you very much for your briefing and for everything that UNHCR is doing. I appreciate very much your explanation for what is going on here in the last few weeks. As you and others know, I have spent a lot of time on the issue of making sure that there could be freedom of movement and that the people here should be able to come back to where they lived before and that there be a multi-ethnic Croatia as well as Bosnia.
I have to say, Mr. Ministers, I am shocked by what I have seen here. I have spoken about the subject in a general way for a long time, but when you actually see what has happened, and you talk to a family, and these, the families I talked to, are exactly the kinds of country you ought to have. They are a mixed family, Croats married to Serbs and Serbs married to Muslims. This is what this county is about and it is now destroyed, and these people that wanted to come back and live in their own houses are now living like prisoners in some house of a relative, with their children who cannot go to school.
I find it disgusting. I think that it is the responsibility of your government to live up to what you say that you are doing, which is to make sure that there is freedom of movement. I hope that you will make some compensation to these particular people, and that you will from Zagreb send out a message loud and clear that this is not acceptable. Foreign Minister Granic knows that the status of Croatia within the international community depends on the fact that people can come back and live in their own houses. We have done a lot of talking and I appreciate very much what you are trying to do, but I think that it is very important when you actually see the individual cases that you know that this is unacceptable.
MINISTER RADIC: The Croatian government also condemns such incidents. It deplores the fact that houses have been burned and people hurt. It is doing its best to reduce such incidents to the minimum and it is working on it day in and day out. On your way here you passed a village which before this war was mostly populated by Serbs. We are very proud to say that most of the houses were kept intact. We do condemn that this house has been burned down, but at the same time we are happy to see that most of them have been preserved. We also passed the Serb Orthodox church which is also intact, unlike most Catholic churches in the nearby villages, which have been destroyed. Our policy is to insure the return of all people who have homes here and who wish to come back. But not only here, it Is also those for the Croatians, the Danubian region, because it has to be an interdependent, interactive process. We would be only too happy to be able to reconstruct all the 70,000 devastated houses.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Mr. Minister, I think the issue here is the following. It is clear to me that you cannot just have two or three people return to a village, that it is important that there be enough people who come back together so that they have a sense of security. I hope that your policy will be such that will allow there to be groups of Serbs that can come back and live together. I also, I have been in this area many times, and I have spoken out loudly against the destruction of Catholic churches. I have spoken out loudly against atrocities committed against the Croats. I am now speaking out equally loudly against atrocities that are committed against Serbs. This cannot go on like this. And you say that the houses have been kept. There are signs on here that say this house belongs to the Croat Army. That is not a policy that I think is helpful in terms of what you are trying to achieve.
I was very pleased when I heard that you had been appointed for this job, because I think it needs somebody that is going to devote himself to this. I want to tell you here that you have a difficult job. We want to support you in that job, but I want you to tell me that the people I have just visited will be safe and secure, and that there will be a way that they are compensated for what happened here.
CROATIAN OFFICIAL: I assure you that the Croatian state will do everything it can to secure the safety of these people, not because you say so, but because it is written down in the Croatian constitution.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, from what you have seen today, what is it going to take to get people to actually live together? Everywhere you go, there is hatred on one side or the other.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Tyler, I think two things. First of all, as I said, I think it is important for people not to go back in single groups, single families. I think there is some more sense of security if it is evident that the policy is that communities could come back together somehow. Second, that it absolutely requires leadership from the top, and not just fine words but actions that make it clear that the kinds of things we have seen here are unacceptable, and that the government itself condemns it. I was very glad to hear what the Minister said, and we will be watching very carefully. As I have said in a number of places, our assistance is conditional. And it is conditioned on people fulfilling basic requirements.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, as a result of your conversations this morning with President Tudjman, did you feel that he personally is committed to the safe and secure return of refugees?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, he says he is, but I think that it is very important that there be some actions, and I think it would be very useful if some people here were arrested as a result of what happened. As I said, I think that words are fine and the Minister said it is in the constitution and the Foreign Minister and I have spoken about this many, many times. I think we need actions, and some arrests would be proof of that. Thank you.
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