Croatia celebrates independence while rival Serbs mourn

AP News
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Posted: Aug 04, 2015 3:11 PM
Croatia celebrates independence while rival Serbs mourn

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Tanks rumbled and soldiers marched as Croatia held a military parade Tuesday to mark the 20th anniversary of sealing its independence from Yugoslavia, while neighboring Serbia mourned victims of the military operation that marked the end of a four-year war.

The parade in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, and other events were hailed as victory celebrations in Croatia. In Serbia, the anniversary was marked as a day of mourning for the nearly 700 ethnic Serbs who died in the Croatian "Operation Storm" that crushed the Belgrade-backed insurgency in western Croatia in 1995.

Some 200,000 Croatian Serbs fled the offensive that sealed Croatia's declaration of independence made in 1991. Most of the ethnic Serbs have never returned to their homes in and around the town of Knin, the center of the rebellion.

The war in Croatia claimed at least 10,000 lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless when Serbs launched the rebellion, wanting to remain within the Serb-led Yugoslavia.

The anniversary celebrations have for years burdened relations between Croatia and Serbia, the wartime Balkan foes who are trying to patch up economic and political relations. Serbian officials have called the offensive "genocide" against the Serbs, while Croatian officials have hailed it as the greatest day in Croatia's recent history.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said the offensive was "a clean, legitimate and brilliant military operation."

The parade included about 3,000 Croatian soldiers and 300 military vehicles, with air force jets and helicopters flying above. Although invited, NATO troops did not take part in the parade, but Western representatives were present among the public.

In Serbia, officials attended church commemorations for the dead and those who fled.

Croatia is a member of the European Union and NATO. Serbia, a traditional Russian ally, wants to join the EU.

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AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.