Return of Croatian Serbs obstructed

ZAGREB, Jun 30, 2000 -- (AFP) Despite pledges from Croatia's new government to enable the return of ethnic Serb refugees, the local administration is still obstructing it, a Croatian Serb leader said Thursday.

"Today we witness the greatest degree of human rights violations in Croatia since 1990. The reason for it is in a gap between the government's positive political will and the old policy which still rules on the local level," Milan Djukic, the head of the Serb People's Party (SNS), told a press conference.

Former nationalist rulers were accused of obstructing the return of refugees, notably by administrative obstacles.

According to Djukic, the hostility towards the return of Croatian Serb refugees is visible in the actions of the police, administration and courts, preventing them from gaining rights such as social security, health care and employment.

Djukic estimated that the government's decision to take the population census in 2001, when the process of the return of refugees would not be completed, was clearly aimed at discrimination.

"According to the Croatian constitution, minorities representing eight percent of the total population are adequately represented in legislative and administrative power, so this (census) was obviously a political decision," he said.

According to the 1991 census, Croatian Serbs made up 12.16 percent of Croatia's total population of more than 4,700,000.

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

Some 42,000 of them have returned from Yugoslavia, Bosnia and elsewhere to their pre-war homes, while an additional 31,700, displaced in eastern Croatia, returned to their homes in other parts of the country, according to the same source.

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