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Pope arrives in Bosnia on mission of peace

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Explosives found along papal route

April 12, 1997
Web posted at: 2:19 p.m. EDT (1819 GMT)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) - Pope John Paul II, ignoring an assassination threat, called for peace and reconciliation in Bosnia Saturday where hours before his arrival police removed land mines found along his motorcade route.

The 76-year-old pontiff kissed Bosnian soil on his arrival, held in a decorative box by two Bosnians in traditional costume.


movie iconPope arrives in Sarajevo
(1M/27 sec. QuickTime movie)
movie iconBosnia police recover mines
(627K/20 sec. QuickTime movie)

"I wish to embrace all the inhabitants of this country who have endured such suffering," the pope said, " ... all people regardless of their nationality and religion."

The bombed-out remains of buildings loomed over Sarajevans lining the roads outside the airport where the pope spoke after words of welcome from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.


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Earlier, Bosnia police, preparing for the pope's arrival, removed 23 mines from under a downtown Sarajevo bridge along the pope's planned route into the city.

The Interior Ministry said the explosives, found under a bridge, were planted overnight. A spokesman denied a report by the official BH Press news agency, which quoted police as saying they were left over from the 3 1/2-year war and Serb siege of Sarajevo.

"The danger has been removed, and an investigation is under way," said spokesman Suad Arnautovic.

There was no indication who planted the devices, but there has been a series of explosions at churches and mosques in Bosnia in recent weeks. Officials have said they appeared to be an effort to heighten tensions and discourage the pope from coming.

Five helicopters were ready to ferry the pope and his entourage directly to the Roman Catholic cathedral in downtown Sarajevo, bypassing the stretch of road where the explosives were found.

But the pope refused, insisting he wanted to stick to the land route to give him an opportunity to see the city, his spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

The six-mile trip into the city passed without incident. Outside the cathedral, the pope waded into the crowds jamming the tiny square and narrow streets. Italian sharpshooters with red berets were stationed on nearby rooftops.

Sarajevo: 'a sad symbol'

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John Paul's 25-hour visit to the predominantly-Islamic city is meant to help heal the wounds of Bosnia's bitter civil war. More than a year after the war was ended with the Dayton peace accords, nationalist hatred still divides both Bosnia and its capital.

Sarajevo, the pope said earlier this week, is a "sad symbol of the tragedies that have struck Europe in the 20th century."

Sarajevans hoped John Paul's visit would breathe life into their fragile peace.

"Everywhere he went he brought peace," said 32-year-old Hedija. "I hope he does the same for us."

"I with the pope could influence our leaders and change the way they think," said Jusuf Granulo, a 52-year-old lawyer. "He should have come much sooner."

Hard-liners from Bosnia's three main communities -- Muslims, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Christian Serbs -- have resisted efforts to unify the country. Relations between the Muslims and Croats have deteriorated recently after a series of bombings at mosques and Catholic churches.

The pope plans to celebrate Mass at Sarajevo's Kosevo Stadium on Sunday. About 40,000 people were expected to attend.

Correspondent Julio Aliago and Reuters contributed to this report.


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