Berserkistan Navigator Croatia Agrees to
Revise Serb Amnesty Law

By Mark Heinrich

ZAGREB, June 13 (Reuters) - Croatia has agreed to interpret a new amnesty for minority Serbs to include as many people as possible except for war criminals defined by international law, a senior U.N. official said on Thursday.

U.N. officials have privately criticised the amnesty law as inadequate because it covers only original residents of a rebel enclave due to revert to government control by 1997, excluding more than 150,000 other Serbs, most of them war refugees.

Jacques Klein, head of the U.N. Transitional Authority for the enclave of Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES), said its Serbs had to be given enough confidence to stay, restoring a multi-ethnic society, when Croats assumed authority over the area.

"I'm very pleased that the (Croatian) government is going to give us an interpretation of that (amnesty) bill which will be as full and complete as possible,'' he said after talks with President Franjo Tudjman and his advisers. "No one has any sympathy for war criminals. We have to identify who those are. But for the majority of the (Serb) population, we need to lift the psychological cloud that is over their head," he told reporters.

Klein, an American diplomat with 5,000 multinational troops at his disposal, described the amnesty as an "ongoing and important issue." "We'll have to see in the next few days what kind of interpretation we have. I think there is a real interest on the Croatian side to create a climate of acceptance, to lift this pyschological cloud that's there, to say (to Serbs) "you are welcome, there is a future'," he said.

Ivica Kostovic, deputy prime minister and close to Tudjman, said: "Our justice minister will on Monday give an interpretation of the amnesty law and in this way show that it will be very favourable for the (Serb) population."

The U.N. Security Council expressed concern at the limited nature of the amnesty as enacted on May 17 and called on Croatia a week later to broaden the measure to all Serbs apart from recognised war criminals.

Western powers are pressing Croatia to observe a general amnesty to avert a possible mass exodus of fearful Serbs from Eastern Slavonia, defeating the purpose of the UNTAES mission. Roughly 150,000 Serbs, at least a third of them refugees from elsewhere in Croatia, live in the enclave, a fertile plain on the River Danube border with Serbian-led rump Yugoslavia.

Serbs seized three enclaves totalling almost a third of Croatia and evicted Croat inhabitants in a 1991 uprising against the Zagreb government's secession from Yugoslavia.

UNTAES was formed in January to avert a Croatian army blitz to retake Eastern Slavonia on the heels of conquests of two other enclaves. Steps to reattach Eastern Slavonia to Croatia have gone smoothly, including the restoration of communications and the withdrawal or disbandment of Serb rebel forces. Klein said demilitarisation would be complete on June 21.

He expected to exercise an option to lengthen UNTAES' mandate beyond one year, to July 1, 1997 to allow enough time to restore efficient regional government and hold elections.

Klein on Thursday dismissed demands by some Slavonian Serb municipalities for "state-within-a-state" autonomy, ignoring the 1995 treaty expressly envisaging the enclave's return to Croatian sovereignty.

To learn more...
Berserkistan, June 7 · Croatia Releases 60 Serbs Under Statehood Day Amnesty Plan
Berserkistan, May 22 · U.N Calls on Croatia to Broaden Serb Amnesty Laws
Berserkistan, May 21 · Croatian Amnesty Law for Serbs Said Flawed
Berserkistan, May 7 · Team Berserkistan First Across Yugoslav Confrontation Line
Berserkistan, May 7 · Delay Seen in Returning Eastern Slavonia to Croatia

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