June 25, 2000Montenegro asking forgiveness from Croatia
AVTAT, Croatia, June 24 -- The president of Montenegro, who has increasingly turned away from Belgrade, asked Croatia today to forgive his countrymen for shelling Dubrovnik during the 1991 war that the Yugoslav Army waged against Croatia's independence.
"I wish to request forgiveness from the citizens of the Republic of Croatia," and particularly those of Dubrovnik, "for all the suffering and material losses inflicted during these tragic events by Montenegrins in the ranks of the Yugoslav Army," President Milo Djukanovic told reporters after talks with the Croatian president, Stipe Mesic.
The talks were held in Cavtat, a Croatian resort just south of Dubrovnik that also suffered heavy damage in the fall of 1991, when Yugoslav troops drawn mostly from Montenegro crossed into the tip of southwestern Croatia and advanced on Dubrovnik.
Mr. Djukanovic, who was elected in 1997, has taken an increasingly independent line from President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, who rallied Yugoslav forces from Serbia and Montenegro against Croatia's bid for independence in 1991. Mr. Mesic, who was elected president in February after the death of Franjo Tudjman, supported independence but had broken with Mr. Tudjman's increasingly nationalist and authoritarian policies by the mid-1990's.
Mr. Djukanovic said both sides should put the 1991 attack behind them.
"I underline that from the Montenegrin side, there is no ambiguity when we reach out our hand to Croatia with the conviction that we have put these difficult moments behind us," he said.
[A senior Croatian official close to Mr. Mesic told Reuters on Friday that Mr. Djukanovic's request for forgiveness had been expected as a token of good will on the part of Montenegro's new democratic government and a precondition for improving relations with Croatia.]
In March 1999, Montenegro reopened a border post with Croatia on the Adriatic coast, without awaiting approval from Belgrade. But the two sides have yet to solve a dispute over the Prevlaka peninsula at Croatia's southernmost tip, in part because Montenegro is still formally part of Yugoslavia and cannot fully control negotiations over the issue.
Montenegro shares a land border with Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Croatia.