Aleksandar Vučić, Milorad Dodik republika srpska, bosna srbija.jpg
Photograph: HINA/ Tanjug/ Marko ĐOKOVIĆ/ ik

The President of the Bosnian Serb entity of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, on Wednesday sent an open letter to Banja Luka Bishop Franjo Komarica after Komarica compared the killings at Bleiburg with the suffering of Croats in Banja Luka during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, when local Croats were exposed to mass persecution and killing. 

Dodik's open letter, forwarded to the local media, says that with his latest statement the bishop "has crossed the line of tolerance" which he said both of them "are obliged to maintain", noting that until now he had refrained from similar reactions even though he had reason to react.

Asked by reporters on Tuesday why he served Mass at Bleiburg on May 14, Banja Luka's Roman Catholic bishop said that he went there to pay respect to innocent victims, warning that the war-time events in Banja Luka, which had been almost entirely cleansed of non-Serbs, were being persistently ignored.

"This here is Bleiburg.... that is what I wanted to say at Bleiburg... Go to Banja Luka and take a look, Bleiburg is there. Where are Banja Luka residents, why were they killed, why have they been denied the right to their identity? They have no right to their place of origin. That's Bleiburg for me," Komarica said, adding that it was time to take off masks and admit the full truth about all crimes.

In his open letter, Dodik said that with his statement Komarica hit a raw nerve, namely the issue of victims of Ustasha crimes committed in World War II, whom he described as "the holiest martyrs."

"You served Mass for the victims of Bleiburg, which is your right. I am confident that you know that some of the Bleiburg victims were responsible for our suffering in the areas of Mt Kozara, Banja Luka and Donja Gradina but that none of our victims were responsible for the death of people for whom you served Mass at Bleiburg. Therefore your comparison of Banja Luka and Bleiburg is horrible, to say the least," Dodik said, without replying to Komarica's question as to who killed and expelled non-Serbs from Banja Luka and why.

He also said that he understood Komarica's concern about the present and future of his people and was willing to help him in that regard but that he was not sure the bishop was helping his people with such statements.  

Resenting Komarica's "harsh words", Dodik said that the past could not be changed but that "the future can be significantly impacted through care, hard work and tolerance."

The dignitary has also warned on many occasions about a deteriorating status of Catholics in his diocese, noting that before the 1992-1995 war, 220,000 Catholic Croats lived in the area which is now under the control of the Bosnian Serbs, while now only an estimated 13,000 have remained.

More than 400 Roman Catholics, mostly Croats, and four priests have been killed in their homes by Serb armed groups in the Banja Luka region, north-western Bosnia, during 1992-1995, according to a statement issued by Banja Luka Diocese officials in 1995. Thirty seven (37) churches were blown up or burnt, 17 churches heavily devastated, and another 21 suffered minor kinds of damage in the Banja Luka area in this period, according to the statement. Besides, 24 houses of the Roman Catholic parishes were pulled down or ruined. Many Catholics were physically abused, and several hundreds of them were taken by force for hard labour on fronts. These acts were committed in a Bosnian area that has not been directly exposed to war, according to the statement. The statement underlines that Serb authorities in Banja Luka have never taken any action to find perpetrators of such crimes and to protect innocent people.

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