Tipped new Croatian PM backs refugee return

VIENNA, Jan 7, 2000 -- (AFP) Ivica Racan, widely tipped to become Croatia's prime minister, said he wants all refugees of fighting in the ex-Yugoslavia to return to their homes, in a newspaper interview Friday.

"We support the return of all refugees to their homes," he told the Austrian daily Die Presse. "We guarantee that we will not prevent anyone from going home," he said.

Some 350,000 Serbs fled Croatia during the 1991-95 war which followed Zagreb's independence, and over 200,000 of them remain living in Yugoslavia, according to refugee agencies. Croats were also forced to flee eastern Croatia and Bosnia after Serb occupations.

"We are going to continue efficiently the process of returning Serbs (to Croatia), but we are also interested in the return of Croats to eastern Croatia and Bosnia," said Racan.

Former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who died last month, was repeatedly accused of delaying refugee returns.

Racan is the head of the former communist Social Democratic Party (SDP), a leading group in the six-party opposition alliance which won elections last Monday.

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