"Serb leaders object to the church's early recognition of Croatia and Bosnia after the republics broke away from old Yugoslavia."
April 12, 1997
Pope visits Sarajevo after mines found in city
By Dan De Luce
SARAJEVO - Pope John Paul II, ignoring an assassination threat, called for peace and reconciliation in Bosnia where police removed landmines planted on his motorcade into Sarajevo hours before his arrival Saturday.
The pope, prevented from visiting the Bosnian capital during the war because Serbs refused to guarantee his safety, touched down at Sarajevo airport at 5:15 p.m. amid tight security enforced by police and NATO soldiers.
During the morning, police dismantled 23 anti-tank mines attached to a remote control system under a main boulevard. The Muslim-Croat federation said the mines were probably planted overnight.
There was no indication of who was responsible for the apparent assassination plot.
In chilly wintry weather, the Pope shook hands with the Muslim and Croat members of the new collective presidency and foreign envoys before delivering a speech in Serbo-Croat.
``At last I am able to be here with you to see you and to speak to you having shared from afar your pain and your suffering during the tragic period of the recent conflict,'' the pope said.
``I would like to embrace all those who live in this region, who have endured so much...''
The 76-year old pontiff has been an outspoken supporter of Bosnian statehood and often mourned Sarajevo's plight during the 1992-95 war, when besieging Serb forces pounded the city with shellfire.
Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim chairman of the presidency, praised the pope's trip as an act of ``personal bravery and deep belief.
``From the first shot fired and as soon as the first victims fell, your voice echoed with a call and condemnation. That voice continues to be heard,'' Izetbegovic said in a welcoming speech.
The pope has travelled to Sarajevo at a time of tense relations inside the country's Muslim-Croat Federation and political paralysis in the peacetime central government.
A wave of bombing attacks on Catholic churches and Islamic mosques over the past two months had raised fears for his safety during the trip.
NATO soldiers outnumbered dignitaries at the airport ceremony, reflecting elaborate security measures undertaken for the papal visit.
A snow storm Friday night fuelled concern among church officials that many Catholics might decide not to make the trip from outside Sarajevo.
As NATO helicopters buzzed overhead, the glass-topped popemobile made its way down the boulevard where police had removed the explosives.
The mood was subdued with a small crowd lining the motorcade route to the city center, waving yellow-white Vatican banners.
At the main cathedral, the pope planned to celebrate vespers with priests, nuns, and seminarians. Church organizers hoped cloudy skies would clear for an open-air mass Sunday in Kosevo soccer stadium.
Earlier on the flight from Rome to Sarajevo, the pope was clearly in good spirits and joked with reporters, ``Do any of you speak Croat? It's all going to be in Croat.''
No senior Serb officials attended the airport ceremony, reflecting the Orthodox Christian Serbs' hostility to the Vatican.
Serb leaders object to the church's early recognition of Croatia and Bosnia after the republics broke away from old Yugoslavia.
Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb member of the peacetime collective presidency, agreed to the visit but chose not to attend ceremonies at the airport, citing concerns for his safety.