Bosnian Muslims return to a stoning in Brcko

BRCKO, Apr 27, 2000 -- (AFP) Bosnian Muslims still trying to return to their homes after the war with the Serbs are encountering strong hostility as they try to rebuild their properties in this former battleground of the conflict.

Branko Vasic, a 59-year-old Serb, said he had no idea who was throwing stones last week at a family of Muslim refugees trying to rebuild their home, 50 meters (yards) away.

But this former train driver, himself a refugee from Sarajevo, defended the hundred or so Serbs who stoned Muslims trying to return to their homes in the Serbian quarter of Klanac, near to the center of Brcko.

"The international community gives us nothing, not a penny, everything goes to the Muslims," Vasic said. "Look around here, there is no running water, no toilets in the house. We are not getting any help, we live off what we manage to grow in the garden.

Vasic arrived from the Sarajevo suburb of Ilijas, forced out after the war, and set up home in a half-destroyed house, itself abandoned by its Muslim owners during the bloody conquest of Brcko by Serb forces in 1992.

Since he fled Sarajevo, he has survived in the house with his son and daughter-in-law and their two-and-a-half-year-old son. But the young couple, who do not speak a word of English between them, are planning to emigrate next month to Las Vegas.

Vasic turns towards the house that was targeted by Serbs and behind it, the houses that Muslims have managed to re-roof.

"In Ilijas, in Sarajevo, we had a brotherly existence before the war, but I shall never go back. Today it is impossible. I want nothing more to do with Islam," he said.

"I have already had five expulsion orders, but I shall not move. If I move into the town, I would lose this little garden and would die of starvation," Vasic said.

One hundred meters away, at the de facto frontier between the town's Muslim and Serb neighborhoods, there is a small office housing the Commission for Refugee Property Claims, which handles about 50 applicants a day.

Lawyer Sukrija Dupcanin, its juridical advisor, has become an expert in discouraging applicants. He has been trying for a year to get a Serb family evicted from his house, a kilometer away.

"I obtained a certificate of ownership and an eviction order was issued against the squatters, but the municipal authorities have done nothing to enforce it. I went to see the Serb family, but they said they had nowhere else to go," Dupcanin said.

In Brcko, the transition towards a multi-ethnic administration is continuing under international pressure, but the Serbs remain dominant.

Often money is short. "Sometimes it is the duty of the local authorities to rehouse evicted families, but often there is no housing to put them in and no money to rebuild homes," Dupcanin said.

Nevertheless the Muslim push towards the town center is continuing. In the post-war ruins, new red-tile roofs have reappeared and new window and door frames have been installed to replace those blasted out in the fighting. Flimsy shop stalls have been set up along the beaten up streets.

Serbs Vasiljevic and Mara Cvjetin undertook a difficult enterprise when they established a modest grocer's shop at the edge of the Muslim neighborhood of Broida.

"We have no Serb customers, only Muslims. And only because we keep our prices down. Otherwise they will take their custom to a Muslim shop," said Vasiljevic from behind a small barricade of canned food and drinks.

"It is not easy, they throw stones at our shop front several times a month," he added. But for this couple ruined by the war, the new clientele of thousands of Muslims is their best chance of recovering prosperity.

Original article