June 8, 1997

Tudjman calls for reconciliation in Vukovar

By Caroline Smith

ZAGREB, Croatia - Croatian President Franjo Tudjman called for reconciliation and forgiveness between Croats and Serbs Sunday, but his ``train of peace'' was stoned by a mob on return from the devastated city of Vukovar.

``Holy Mary and God, pray for all of us to be Christians above all, to know how to forgive, to know not only how to pray but also to create new life,'' Tudjman said in his first visit to the Serb-held town since 1991, when it was seized by Serbs after a prolonged bombardment and siege.

``A victor who does not know how to forgive sows a seed of new divisions and future evils, and the Croatian nation does not want that,'' said Tudjman in his second conciliatory speech in a week.

He spoke to some 1,000 people, mostly Croats from all over the country who came with him on the train, in front of the town's 120-year-old blasted railway station, symbolizing the destruction Vukovar had suffered early in the 1991 Croatian war.

Some 1,500 Croats and as many Serbs were killed in an epic battle and its aftermath. The war broke out when Croatia declared independence from former Yugoslavia and its Serb minority rebelled against the move with the support of Serbia.

The gathering was secured by scores of United Nations soldiers, who patrol and administer the mainly-Serb region before it returns under Croatian rule next month.

But despite some 1,500 blue helmets, white tanks in the fields and helicopters in the air, a group of some 20-30 men stoned the train as it was leaving Vukovar, breaking at least seven windows, witnesses said.

``We came in peace, we came with white roses, and they were saying goodbye with stones,'' said Josipa Lisac, a well-known Croatian jazz singer.

She was in one of the compartments where flying stones made people duck and lie on the floor. She said no one was seriously hurt, but some people were lightly scratched by broken glass.

The entourage, including the entire Croatian political, media, military and entertainment elite, diplomatic corps and church officials, started from Zagreb in the morning to arrive in Vukovar shortly after 1 p.m. (7:05 a.m. EDT).

As it drove through endless plains of Slavonia, Croatia's eastern-most region, the train was greeted by peasants standing in the fields with flags, and children with flowers, waving.

In a speech at Zagreb railway station, the 75-year old president Tudjman invited Serbs who want to stay in Croatia to build their future alongside Croats.

``This is a train of peace and reconciliation with all those (Serbs) who stayed in Croatia and took its (citizenship) documents,'' Tudjman told some 2,000 supporters.

``We guarantee them all citizenship rights and want them to build their lives as all other citizens of Croatia,'' he added in an unusually reconciliatory speech.

Tudjman and his government were recently attacked by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for not sticking to their commitment to allow Serbs who decided to stay in Croatia after the 1991-95 wars in former Yugoslavia to do so in peace.

Albright accused the government of failing to do enough to protect the Serb minority and prevent incidents like the one in which a Croat mob beat and harassed some 100 elderly Serb civilians in central Croatia last month.

Up to 180,000 Serbs left the country when the Croatian army crushed their rebellion in two out of the three enclaves in the summer of 1995.

Some 50,000 of them found refuge in Eastern Slavonia, and their return to their homes is a precondition for the return of some 100,000 Croatian refugees, expelled by Serbs from Eastern Slavonia in 1991, to theirs.

The head of the U.N. administration of Eastern Slavonia, Jacques Klein said Tudjman was about to give ``one of the most important speech he will ever give.''

The Serb representative, Vojislav Stanimirovic, said: ``The history is written by victors, but truth is written by time.''

Tudjman is facing re-election on June 15, and the ``train of peace'' is a central part of his campaign. He is tipped to win easily on the back of his popular reputation as the man who created independent Croatia.