Refugee return requires aid

ZAGREB, Jan 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) The presidential candidate from Croatia's center-left alliance, which triumphed this week in parliamentary elections, said on Friday more international aid was needed to permit all refugees to return to the country.

Tens of thousands of Croatian Serb refugees have yet to go back home after fleeing fighting in the 1991-1995 Croatian and Bosnian wars, and Drazen Budisa stressed their right of return.

"Every citizen has a right to return home after this horrible war," said Budisa, the Social Liberal candidate in presidential elections set for January 24. The polls were triggered by the death last month of autocratic president Franjo Tudjman,

Budisa told a news conference Croatia "will have to ask for more international aid to make possible the return of all."

More than 60,000 Croatian Serbs, who fled to other areas in former Yugoslavia during the 1991-95 war, are unable to go back because their houses are occupied by Bosnian Croats, who cannot return to their own homes in Bosnian Serb territory.

Budisa's Social Liberals, together with their senior coalition partners, the Social Democrats, ended the decade-long rule of the conservative nationalist HDZ party this week in the parliamentary elections.

Budisa said that, if elected president, he would quit his party, reduce the budget of the once majestic presidential office by two-thirds and work hard to push Croatia towards the European Union and NATO on the basis of fulfilling all international commitments.


Prime Minister-elect Ivica Racan of the Social Democrats said on Wednesday that, unlike the outgoing HDZ government, his coalition would not hinder the return of refugees.

Budisa said on Friday Croatia should continue "controlled" financing of its kin in neighboring Bosnia.

While stressing Bosnia's sovereignty, he said: "It remains our constitutional obligation to help Croats in Bosnia."

Post-war Bosnia comprises a Bosnian Serb entity and a tense Croat-Moslem federation.

"I support a reduction of military potential of all three sides and strict control of funding, so that taxpayers know what is going on," Budisa told reporters a day after he handed in his candidacy for the presidential vote.

Budisa and the HDZ's Mate Granic, Foreign Minister since 1993, are likely to be top contestants in the presidential race.

Budisa said: "My victory will end a cycle of changes that started with parliamentary elections. Granic's victory might halt the changes people have voted for. He is the man whose task is to salvage the HDZ."

The campaign to elect a successor to Tudjman formally starts on Saturday. A contestant has to capture over 50 percent of votes to win in the first round. Otherwise, two top runners - most probably Granic and Budisa - will go to another round on February 8.

[URL may be different next day if article is archived]