Sun, Dec 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Serb leader signs agreement with Croatia government

AFP , ZAGREB

The leader of the main ethnic Serb political party in Croatia announced on Friday that he has signed an agreement with the nationalist-led government under which his party would take several posts in the administration of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.

Under the deal, Sanader's nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) also agreed that property belonging to Serbs in Croatia who had fled the country during the 1991 to 1995 Serbo-Croatian war would be restored to them by the end of next year.

Milorad Pupovac said his Independent Serb Democratic Party, which holds three seats in parliament, had signed the deal with the HDZ.

Sanader, whose party won legislative elections on Nov. 23, is to ask parliament to vote on the accord tomorrow.

Cooperation with the minority Serb community is essential if the HDZ is to prove to the EU, which Croatia hopes to join in 2007, that it is serious about meeting standards for membership.

Some 280,000 Serbs fled the country during the war, according to the UN refugee agency.

Many Serb refugees have been unable to return to Croatia because their pre-war homes have been occupied by Croatians or Bosnian Croats, themselves refugees from Bosnia's 1992 to 1995 war.

During the election campaign, Sanader had called on Serb refugees to return to their homes and pledged to respect their rights and restore their property.

Pupovac said last month that his party would refuse a ministerial post but was nevertheless ready to "support" the new government as long as it did not include extreme right-wing coalition partners.

The HDZ won 66 of the 152 parliamentary seats in the general election.

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