Legislation on return Croatian refugees

ZAGREB, Jun 6, 2000 -- (AFP) Croatian Serbs' representatives voiced cautious optimism Monday over legislation on the reconstruction of property damaged during the 1991-95 Serbo-Croatian conflict, which gives a legal framework for solving issues related to refugees.

"The amended law on reconstruction is an essential step in solving the refugee return-related issues, namely the issue of repossession of property and equal treatment of returnees in terms of reconstruction," Milorad Pupovac, the head of the Serb National Council (SNV), an umbrella organization of the main Croatian Serb institutions and parties, told AFP Monday.

The parliament on Thursday adopted amendments to the law on reconstruction, recognizing the right to reconstruction for those who were registered as living in Croatia in 1991.

The right was previously reserved to Croatian citizens, an administrative obstacle for Serb refugees facing difficulties in getting Croatian documents.

The law made all returnees equal in their rights on property and reconstruction, Pupovac said, but stressed that without its consistent implementation the issue could not be solved.

The law is "a step forward, but we have yet to see how it will be implemented," Milan Trbojevic, spokesman of the Joint Council of Serb Municipalities (ZVO) in Vukovar, told AFP by telephone.

Trbojevic warned that without strong investments in the economy there would be no positive results in the return of either Serb or Croatian refugees.

Some 280,000 Croatian Serbs fled the country during and after the 1991-95 conflict, according to UN refugee agency (UNHCR) figures.

UNHCR welcomed the adoption of the law as a "confirmation of the government's will to assume a comprehensive responsibility for all of its citizens in a non-discriminatory manner."

Milan Djukic, the head of Serb People's Party (SNS), said he was "afraid that it will be just another nice story ... and that nothing will happen regarding the rights of Serb people in Croatia."

Meanwhile, the US government announced Friday a contribution of five million dollars (5.3 million euros) in addition to the one million dollars announced in early March by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to assist the return of refugees to Croatia.

The aid will be used to provide basic humanitarian assistance as well as repairs to housing and other facilities.

Original article