Sarajevo: Pope Francis said Sunday he plans a June visit to Sarajevo, the city that became a bloody symbol of the Balkans wars of the 1990s.
He told pilgrims during weekly prayers at the Vatican that he would visit the Bosnian capital on June 6 to pray for peace and inter-religious dialogue in the Muslim-majority city.
The 44-month siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav army forces was one of the darkest hours of the 1992-95 war and left about 12,000 people dead.
The pontiff`s visit will come just weeks ahead of the 20th anniversary of the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica by Serb forces, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
Francis called on the faithful to pray that his visit would be a boost for the Catholic population, and at the same time help "strengthen fraternity, inter-religious dialogue and friendship".
It will be his second trip to the Balkans after he made Albania the destination for his first European visit after becoming pope.
Pope John Paul II visted Sarajevo in April 1997, just two years after the end of the war that claimed 100,000 lives.
That trip was marked by the discovery, on the eve of the pontiff`s arrival, of a large amount of explosives hidden under a bridge along the planned route of his motorcade.
John Paul, who made more than 100 foreign trips during his papacy, visited Bosnia again in 2005.
Since the war, Bosnia has been split into two entities -- the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, each with its own government.
The Argentinian pope, the head of the world`s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics and the first from Latin America, has already planned about a dozen trips for this year.
He was in the Philippines and Sri Lanka in January and plans a tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay in July followed by a trip to the United States and the United Nations in September.
Francis also said it will make his first visit to Africa this year with stops in Uganda and the Central African Republic.