Serbian President Boris Tadic and Croatian President Ivo Josipovic paid their respects at the site of a mass grave Thursday. Tadic apologized for the deaths of more than 200 Croats at the hands of Serbs in 1991.
Josipovic welcomed his Serbian counterpart Tadic in Vukovar
Serbian President Boris Tadic on Thursday apologized for the 1991 Vukovar massacre, in which around 200 Croats were killed, as he paid an historic visit to the town.
"I am here to pay respect to the victims and to express words of apology and regret," Tadic said in a statement at the Ovcara memorial before laying a wreath that read "to the innocent victims."
"I am here to create the possibility for Croatia and Serbia to turn a page so that our children will not be burdened by the history of the 1990s," Tadic added.
In 1991 the mainly Serb Yugoslav National Army and Serb paramilitary forces bombarded the town of Vukovar, leveling it, leaving scores of Croats dead and forcing many others to flee. In November of that year, after seizing Vukovar, more than 200 Croats were marched out of the town's hospital. They were then killed and buried in a mass grave at the Ovcara pig farm.
The massacre marked the beginning of a four-year war that claimed some 20,000 lives in Croatia, and remains a painful symbol for Croats of Serb wartime brutality.
Tadic and Croatian President Josipovic on Thursday laid wreaths at the mass grave in the clearest message yet of condemnation of all wartime crimes and the need for reconciliation between the two peoples after the war.
Tadic apologized for the killing of 200 Croats
Local media have described the Serbian president's visit to the Croat town as "historic." Tadic is the first Serbian leader to make such a visit to Croatia.
Apology refused by some
Despite the conciliatory gesture, Tadic's visit drew criticism from the Serbian opposition, which called it a "marketing move." Several protesters gathered on the road to the Ovcara monument with signs reading, "You Cannot Wash Away Our Blood" and "Apologies But No Regrets."
The two presidents were later to visit the nearby town of Paulin Dvor to honor 18 Serbs killed there by Croats during the 1991-95 war.
Tadic was also expected to meet with Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor.
Author: Natalia Dannenberg, David Levitz (AP, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Sean Sinico