Associated Press

May 31, 1997

Albright Faces Off With Croatia

DONJI KUKURUZARI, Croatia -- ``How can you let this kind of thing happen?'' the American secretary of state demanded. ``These people did nothing wrong. You should be ashamed.''

The Croatian reconstruction minister, easily a foot taller than Madeleine Albright, stood his ground Saturday as cameras and reporters pressed in. He insisted the government in Zagreb had no way of knowing Serb refugees would be attacked by Croats, themselves refugees from Bosnia, just across the border.

Besides, he said, Serbs mocked the Croats on Orthodox Easter Sunday, shooting guns from windows and -- he hesitated to go on, making provocative gestures.

Albright's confrontation with Reconstruction Minister Jure Radic of Croatia set the tone for her weekend Balkans trip: conflicting claims of conflicting ethnic groups. Her goal was to press belligerent neighbors to live up to what they committed themselves in ending the 3`1/2-year ethnic war in Bosnia.

She expressed her views with similar volubility in presidential offices and among destroyed houses, with government ministers and threadbare refugees. At one point she exploded: ``People are now living like prisoners. There should be arrests.''

In squaring off with Albright, Radic clearly was overmatched. He persisted, but Albright won on points.

``The point is,'' she said, ``the people have a right to come back.''

What happened in mid-May when a van carried about a dozen ethnic Serbs, some married to Croats or Muslims, back to the area Serbs call Krajina is not exactly clear.

But Greg Anstreng, the U.N. human rights chief for the area, said there is no question returning Serbs were beaten.

The violence is only one instance of ethnic tension electrifying this war-torn area of the Balkans as Serbs, Croats and Muslims are supposed to be promoting ethnic brotherhood and adopting democratic institutions.

In Zagreb, the capital, Albright urged Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to exert ``moral direction'' and permit repatriation of refugees and prosecution of war crimes suspects.

She carried a similar message to the Serbian capital Belgrade, where President Slobodan Milosevic, queried on what he expected from the meeting, said only: ``I would like to normalize relations with the United States.''

Their meeting seemed to do nothing toward that goal. Albright described it as ``probably the toughest meeting I've had with any president'' and gave clear indications she put Milosevic on notice that the United States is unhappy with him.

``I made it clear to him that Serbia is at the crossroads,'' she told reporters, adding that U.S. ties are with the Serbian people, not their leaders. She said the United States was doubling to $5 million this year aid for Serbian news media, which operate under constant governmnent pressure.

``She got no encouragement on any subject from him,'' State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.

While reporting that Milosevic ``recommitted himself to the Dayton accords,'' Albright said with transparent disbelief: ``I told him, `Words are cheap. Deeds are coin of the realm.'''

By signing the U.S.-sponsored accords in December 1995, Milosevic committed himself to sending suspected Serb war criminals to the Netherlands for trial. Albright said she was ``very unhappy'' with Milosevic's position Saturday that he does not believe in extraditing Serbs and that any trials should be in Belgrade.

In the past he has said he could not extradite suspects because they were in other parts of former Yugoslavia. She said she gave him documents that proved three were in Serbia, leaving Milosevic without ``any more excuse'' not to comply with the accords, Albright said.

All three -- Mile Mrksic, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin -- are believed still serving with Milosevic's Yugoslav army.

After their meeting, Albright crossed a park in front of the presidency and walked around a corner to the Czech Embassy. It was there that Albright's father, Josef Korbel, served as Czechoslavakia's ambassador to Yugoslavia. Both states dissolved in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's demise.

Albright is going Sunday to Bosnia-Herzegovina to urge good will on Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

Several burned-out homes are evident in this corner of Croatia. Serb leaders insist they were torched by Croats to deter Serbs from coming home.

Albright paid a call on two young families whose homes were ransacked. They are living together in a third house that was unoccupied. One husband is a Croat married to a Muslim, the other a Serb married to a Croat.

Dragan Banadinovic, the Serb, father of two small children, told a chilling story of being beaten by Croatian police and forced to crouch on the ground and eat dirt.

In a two-hour meeting with President Tudjman, Albright threatened to try to delay return of the U.N.-administered enclave of eastern Slavonia unless tens of thousands of Serb refugees are permitted to return to their home.

Tudjman turned aside her complaints that he is foot-dragging on refugees and on arresting war crime suspects.

He said his record on both counts is far better than Serbia's and insisted that reports of Serbs' homes being demolished are exaggerated.

In fact, he said, 14,000 ethnic Serbs have returned to Croatia.