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Balkan Leaders Meet in Sarajevo


In Sarajevo Monday, the leaders of three countries that were involved in the bloodiest fighting in Europe since the end of World War II met to discuss ways they could work more closely together.

The presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Yugoslavia, whose countries fought bitter wars in the 1990s, signed a statement Monday pledging to work together to create a new era in relations.

In a statement at the end of the summit, Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic and the three members of Bosnia-Herzegovina's presidency, Beriz Belkic, Zivko Radisic and Jozo Krizanovic said good relations between their countries were the only way they could maintain stability in the region.

The three leaders also used the talks to focus on economic cooperation between their countries. They discussed opening up their mutual borders by relaxing visa requirements. They also pledged to cooperate with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Only a few years ago, a meeting of this kind would have been unthinkable in Sarajevo. The city's graveyards are filled with the bodies of those killed during the 43-month siege by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1990s.

One of the goals of the meeting was to encourage refugees to return home. The United Nations refugee agency says an estimated 1.3 million people are still internally displaced within the Balkans.

About 600,000 refugees from the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian war are believed to be displaced within Bosnia-Herzegovina. A quarter of a million Croatian Serbs are said to still live in exile, mostly in Bosnia Herzegovina, after they were expelled from their homes.

In addition, Yugoslavia is dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of them Serbs from the ethnic conflict in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo.

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