July 29, 2000Bosnia refugees protest problems of returning home
TUZLA, Bosnia (Reuters) - Thousands of refugees from Bosnia's three main ethnic groups gathered on Saturday to protest the slow pace of return to their pre-war homes.
Under the slogan "Return," Muslim, Croat and Serb refugee associations organized a joint meeting in the northern town of Tuzla to express country-wide dissatisfaction with efforts to return them to their homes five years after the end of the 1992-95 war.
About 1.1 million Bosnians still live either internally displaced or as refugees abroad even though the Bosnian conflict ended in 1995 with the signing of the U.S.-sponsored Dayton peace agreement.
Unlike most other towns in the Balkan country, Tuzla has managed to preserve its pre-war ethnic balance and is one place where nationalist parties have not prevailed.
Post-war Bosnia has been divided into two highly autonomous regions, a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb republic, each with its own government, parliament, army and police.
The majority of the refugees present at Friday's meeting were people expelled from their houses in eastern Bosnia early in the war and have encountered obstacles returning to areas that are still controlled by hard-line Bosnian Serbs.
Only this week, Muslim returnees to Janja village in northern Bosnia clashed with Serb refugees, who were protesting their eviction from Muslim houses there.
But the same problem is also faced by Serbs. Some want to return to their pre-war homes in the western town of Drvar, which is currently controlled by hard-line Croats who moved there during the war.
Along with security problems, refugees who are returning to the places where they represent an ethnic minority, most often lack the resources to rebuild devastated homes and have no jobs or schools for their children.
The protesters on Saturday warned local authorities and international peace envoys alike that they would continue their protest in Sarajevo next week.