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Pope to Visit Bosnia Sunday - 2003-06-21

Bosnian Serb police detained a number of people ahead of Pope John Paul's visit to the Serb part of Bosnia Sunday. The visit is aimed at promoting reconciliation in the troubled region.

Pope John Paul II's visit to Banja Luka, the administrative center of the mainly Orthodox Christian Bosnian Serb republic, will be in sharp contrast to the rapturous welcome he received on his recent visit to largely Roman Catholic Croatia - his 100th foreign tour as Pope. The visit was seen as a spiritual triumph for the Catholic Church and the ailing 83-year-old pontiff.

In Bosnia Herzegovina, some 4,000 police backed by NATO troops will guard the pope during his one-day visit.

The Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry says police in Banja Luka have raided several houses of people they suspect may try to disrupt the visit of the pontiff. Some of those detained are thought to have placed posters and leaflets with anti-Pope messages in the Banja Luka area.

The Bosnian Serb news agency has linked the poster campaign to ultra-nationalists.

More than 700,000 Muslims and Croats were expelled from the Bosnian Serb Republic during what has been called Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II. Dozens of churches and mosques were destroyed. More than 200,000 people from all ethnic groups were killed and two million were made homeless. Pope John Paul says he wants to bring the Christian message of "reconciliation and harmony" to all religions in Bosnia Herzegovina.