JUNE 18 2010 19:10h

Croatian leader to pay tribute to Partisan victims




Croatia's president is to pay tribute to the victims of the post-World War II killings by Partisans in Austria and Slovenia, the first former Yugoslav republic leader to do so, his office said Friday.

On Sunday president Ivo Josipovic will visit Tezno in northeastern Slovenia and nearby Bleiburg in Austria, a statement from his his office said.

At the two sites Josipovic, who will be accompanied by representatives of Partisan anti-fascists veterans as well as the Serb and Roma community, is to lay wreaths for the victims "of the tragic events of 1945," it added.

As Josip Broz Tito's communists Partisans approached Zagreb in May 1945 Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha authorities and their collaborators started to flee towards Austria fearing revenge attacks.

The Ustasha, accompanied by civilians as well as Slovenian and Serbian collaborators with the regime, tried to escape and surrender to British forces.

The British, however, refused their surrender and they were caught and executed by the Partisans in the border region between Austria and Slovenia.

The number of those killed in the region of the southern Austrian town of Bleiburg remains controversial. Estimates vary from a few dozens to several tens of thousands.

Commemorations for the Bleiburg massacre victims, held every year in May, remain controversial due to use of Nazi symbols by Croat groups attending them.

None of Croatia's two previous presidents -- late Franjo Tudjman and Stipe Mesic- -- has ever visited the massacre site.

The Jutarnji List daily's online edition quoted sources from Josipovic's office saying Jospivoc planned the visit to help Croatia overcome the divisions of the past.

The move enables a "more decisive look towards future and possibility that this page (of history) be removed from politics," sources from the presidency said.

Croatia's Nazi-allied Ustasha regime persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serb, Jews, Roman and anti-fascists Croatians.