President Ivo Josipovic apologized Wednesday for Croatia's role in the Bosnian War, offering the clearest message of reconciliation to date from any leader of the three nationalities involved in Europe's bloodiest conflict since the Second World War.


Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, left, accompanied by the chairman of the Bosnian tri partite presidency, Haris Silajdzic, right, listens as he talks at a press conference during an official visit to Bosnia, in Sarajevo, on Wednesday. ((Amel Emric/Associated Press))

Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic in turn praised relations with Croatia, in stark contrast to his harsh criticism of Serbia the day before.

As Yugoslavia was falling apart in the 1990s, the leaders of its republics of Serbia and Croatia planned to carve up Bosnia — positioned between them — and annex half each. Bosnia's Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks — Bosnian Muslims — also clashed in hostilities that also drew in the neighbouring republics and took 100,000 Bosnian lives.

"I'm deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia ... has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today," Josipovic told Bosnia's parliament, describing the politics of the 1990s in the countries involved in the war as planting lasting "seeds of evil" in Bosnia.

'Our relations with ... Croatia have been good and friendly for some time.' —Haris Silajdzic, Bosnia's president

At present, a Bosniak-Croat federation makes up half of Bosnia and a Serb republic the other half. Because of the three perceived different national interests, Bosnia barely functions on a federal level, primarily because Bosnian Serbs do not want to transfer any of the powers of their mini-state to the central government. This is a key obstacle standing in the way of Bosnia's EU membership.

On his first visit since his election in January, Josipovic urged Bosnian Croats to accept Bosnia as their country — a plea prompted by the continued push by some Bosnian Croats for their own Bosnian mini-state.

Croatia itself is a member of NATO and hopes to join the EU soon.

"But the Croatian accession project will not be complete until our neighbours are included, particularly Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro," Josipovic said. "We have to find strength to overcome our doubts and fears and get out of this vicious circle."

Silajdzic said, "Our relations with the Republic of Croatia have been good and friendly for some time, regardless of some outstanding issues."

A day earlier, Silajdzic accused his Serbian counterpart of paying only lip service to reconciliation as he criticized Serbia's demand for the extradition of former Bosnian vice-president Ejup Ganic.

Ganic was arrested in London last month on Serbia's request. Serbia accuses him of ordering an attack on retreating Serb soldiers in what was then the Yugoslav army in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, at the start of the Bosnian war. The allegations were investigated by the UN War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, but legal officials there decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.