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Bosnians Respond to Tudjman’s Death

December 13, 1999

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ For many of Bosnia’s Croats, Franjo Tudjman was a father figure. For Bosnia’s Muslims and Serbs, he was a bitter enemy.

Reactions to the death of Croatia’s president reflect the deep divisions that still grip this ethnically fractious country.

Nowhere is that division clearer than in the southern city of Mostar, where the country’s Muslims and Croats fought a yearlong war that ended in 1994 with the establishment of a joint ethnic federation.

Five years later, Croats and Muslims remain separated by a street that cuts a dividing line through the middle of Mostar. The city’s Serbs have long since fled.

``I’m sorry for the president. He was the founder of the Croatian state _ a thousand-year-long dream″ for independence, said Borivoje Petrovic, 71, who lives in the Croat-controlled side of Mostar.

Tudjman died late Friday in the Croatian capital of Zagreb a month after he was hospitalized. He was believed to have been suffering from stomach cancer for the past three years.

His burial today was expected to draw tens of thousands of citizens from across Croatia.

Most of Bosnia’s estimated 350,000 Croats recognized Tudjman as their president, above the elected leadership of their own Bosnian state.

Ante Jelavic, the Bosnian Croat member of the country’s multiethnic presidency, eulogized Tudjman as the leader of all Croats.

``In this most painful moment for the Croat people, we are left with the memory of the president of all Croats, who founded an independent, democratic and free Croatia, which the Croat people have dreamed of for centuries,″ Jelavic said in a statement issued in Mostar on Saturday.

Addressing the Mostar branch of Tudjman’s political party, the Croatian Democratic Union later Saturday, Jelavic urged all Bosnian Croats to ``visit Zagreb in an organized and dignified manner and pay their last respects″ to Tudjman.

He also said a delegation of party members had traveled to the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, to comfort Bosnian Croats jailed for war crimes.

International and non-Croat officials in Bosnia have criticized the Croat leadership here as an obstacle to the country’s unification.

While some Muslims claimed they were disappointed Tudjman died before he could be tried for war crimes _ although he was never indicted _ many viewed his passing as a chance for relations between the two communities to improve.

``This is the first step towards a normal Bosnia-Herzegovina because its main brakeman is gone,″ said Sanel Cizmic, 43. ``Finally, the Bosnian Croat politicians will start thinking with their own heads.″

Still, Bosnia’s ethnic divisions and economic woes most likely won’t immediately vanish with Tudjman’s death.

``I thought I’d be happier but I feel indifferent now,″ said Denis Hadzalic, 26, a Muslim from Mostar. ``I don’t think anything will change here until there are changes on the top of Croatia.″

Even Croats did not see any quick impact on Bosnia’s future.

``We have nothing to do with Croatia. We are another country ... that’s how it is supposed to be,″ said Marijana Karlovic, a 31-year-old Bosnian Croat doctor. ``I’m sorry for him, but with or without him our future is not bright.″%bold_off(%) %bold_on(%)%bold_off(%)

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