Ogata urges Croatia and Bosnia to return refugees

LAKTASI, Bosnia, Mar 20, 2000 -- (Reuters) U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata on Sunday urged the governments of Croatia and the two regions of Bosnia to work jointly on the return of refugees to their pre-war homes.

Ogata said that only 25,000 Moslem and Croat refugees had returned to their homes in Bosnia's Serb republic since the signing of the Dayton peace agreement that ended the Balkan country's 1992-95 war, 13,000 of them last year.

"I think the time is right for quick action to promote and realise return," Ogata said at a news conference in the Bosnian Serb town of Laktasi, but she added there were still many obstacles.

Some 800,000 Moslems, Serbs and Croats remain displaced throughout Bosnia four years after the war that left 200,000 people dead or missing.

The Serb republic is a temporary home to some 40,000 Croatian Serbs who fled Zagreb's campaign of reconquest in the mid-1990s.

Ogata praised an agreement reached earlier this month between the new Croatian government and the Serb republic on the return over the next three months of 2,000 people currently displaced within Bosnia and Croatia.

But she also urged the three regions involved in the process of refugee returns - Croatia and Bosnia's Serb republic and Moslem-Croat federation - to harmonise their property laws in order to give the process much needed impetus.

Bosnian Serb Refugee Minister Miladin Dragicevic said his government had proposed a regional conference on harmonisation of property legislation in the three regions.

Dragicevic said that it should take place after the 2,000 refugees had completed their return to Croatia, and added that some 1,700 Croatian Serbs currently in the Serb republic had already applied for return.

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