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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BELGRADE/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is in neighboring Croatia trying to ease mounting tensions between the two Balkan rivals stemming from their 1990s war.
While Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic passed an honor guard in snowy Zagreb, more than 1,000 war veterans and nationalists protested his two-day visit.
Vucic, a former fervent nationalist from the war era, now says he is a pro-European Union reformer. But the Croatian protesters demanded an apology and war reparations from Serbia, which backed the minority Serb rebellion in Croatia during a conflict that killed 10,000 people.
One group of war veterans was seen spreading a massive banner reading: "Vucic, we want an apology!" Meeting with his Croatian counterpart, Vucic later reportedly said that he had noticed the protests but that they did not bother him.
Croatian media also quoted him as saying that he had offered to do his best to help find those still missing in the war.
Vucic added that he had provided Croatian authorities already with documents "on three missing persons who were killed" in
the 1991-1995 war in Croatia.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Serbian President Vucic acknowledged that it would take time to improve ties. The visit was planned for last year but canceled amid clashes between politicians over several issues.
That included a quarrel over a statue erected in Serbia's capital Belgrade to a soldier of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav People’s Army who blew up an ammunition depot during the Croatian war of independence in the city of Bjelovar. The soldier, Major Milan Tepic, is seen by the Croatian side as a criminal but is viewed as a hero in Serbia.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic accused Croatian officials of stirring “anti-Serbian hysteria.”
And earlier this year, Croatia protested a Serbian exhibition about a World War II concentration camp in Croatia where Croatia' wartime pro-Nazi puppet regime killed tens of thousands Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies.
Both sides hope that the first official meeting of the Serbian and Croatian heads of state in five years will at least be the start of a new relationship.
The European Union says predominantly Orthodox Serbia must establish good neighborly relations if it wants to join the bloc. Heavily Catholic Croatia already entered the EU in 2013.
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(BosNewsLife's WORLD WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist nations. BosNewsLife is based in Budapest, Hungary, an ex-Communist nation that is now part of the European Union and NATO).