US boosts aid to Croatia

Albright praises democratic elections

By Andrea Koppel

February 2, 2000

ZAGREB, Croatia (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Wednesday applauded the democratic elections recently held in Croatia and said the United States would greatly increase its aid to the Balkan nation.

During a brief stopover in Zagreb en route from Moscow to Washington, Albright announced the United States would boost aid to Croatia from $12 million to $20 million this year.

U.S. officials said the United States would also support Croatia's early accession into NATO'S Partnership for Peace organization.

"This is a genuine new beginning in the U.S.-Croatian relationship," one senior U.S. official said.

Since the death of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman last December, Croatia has undergone parliamentary elections and one round of presidential elections, with a second and final round scheduled for Monday.

Newly strengthened opposition

The two presidential candidates -- Stiep Mesic and Drazen Budisa -- seem equally appealing to U.S. officials who say both are democratically minded. During both elections, Tudjman's party -- the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, which had dominated national politics for decades -- lost to the newly strengthened opposition parties.

The last time Albright visited Croatia, in August 1998, U.S. officials said she "sent a strong message to President Tudjman over Croatia's failure to deal with the refugee problems."

U.S. officials said Croatia's new prime minister, Ivica Racan, supports the return of more than 300,000 Serbs who were forced from the Krajina region during the Bosnia war in 1995.

In a not-so-subtle message to opposition parties in Serbia, U.S. officials said they hope "the model of the Croatian opposition banding together" will "send a positive signal to those in Serbia."

The United States has been trying to galvanize the fragmented opposition within Serbia to present a united front to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

U.S. officials said the new Croatian government can expect "American support of Croatia in gaining entry into key Euro-Atlantic institutions" like the European Union.

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