By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#124, October 17, 2001
June 1, 2000, Bosniac returnees were run out
of Kotorsko by angry Bosnian-Serb Displaced Persons (DP). As a
sign of protest, both communities blocked key roads for several
hours. December 2000 and July 2001, Bosniacs staged protests outside
the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Sarajevo. The demonstrators
demanded that OHR ban any construction on socially owned land
allocated by the Doboj municipal authorities to DPs and returnees
- Located 10 kilometres north of Doboj on the road to Derventa,
Kotorsko used to be the largest Bosniac village in Doboj municipality
with 1,200 houses. During the war in 1995, 937 B-Serbs fled the
Ozren Mountains to inhabit the ruins of Bosniac houses in the
village. They argued they were unable to return to their pre-war
homes in Vozuca (Zavidovici Municipality), which were occupied
by Bosniac DPs from Srebrenica. In the course of the last two
years, approximately 600 Bosniacs started to return to Kotorsko.
"The situation is calm and quiet nowadays, compared to past
events. But we still register some provocation, harassment and
intimidation," says 1st Lt. Jesper Bonnelykke, C Squadron
team leader of the Nordic-Polish Battle Group (NPBG). "The
most difficult is to differentiate between them, because they
all live together." However, everyday life in the village
remains difficult. Faruk Kovacevic was the representative of Kotorsko
Youth House. Now jobless, he wishes to go back to Slovenia. "I
quit because it was impossible for us to find a place to gather
and to organise ourselves," he says, "RS policemen control
our ID cards several times a week."
substantial problems of the village include the living conditions
of returnees and DPs and their access to water. NPBG CIMIC is
actually dealing with this water pump problem. "Many people
here live in ruins or open houses. They suffer from stress, due
to psychological pressure and insecurity. Most of them can hardly
pay for medical treatment," explains Sladana Rekanovic, a
nurse in Kotorsko medical centre, opened in 1998 with the help
of the non-governmental organisation "Médecins sans
Frontières." "We ran a medical programme, but
it's difficult to check every returnee," she says. "People
here are not aggressive, they are just angry, bored," observes
Bonnelykke. "When there is a problem they come to us, we
discuss it and attempt to solve it." Although these problems
are significant, the area of concern is on the other side of the
road, on both sides of the Enterijer Factory.
March 23, 2000, Doboj Municipality passed a decision to allocate
175 plots, on the north and south of the Enterijer Furniture factory.
April 27, 2000, the HR granted to the municipality the right to
allocate these parcels of land, but only for the benefit of vulnerable
groups and after negotiations. In January 2001 a new waiver was
issued with specific conditions. Among the prerequisites, it was
stated that a multicultural playground should be constructed on
But the Bosniac returnees never took any of the plots, which were
offered by public tender. They asserted the entire Kotorsko plot
site was privately owned. They finally filed a claim with the
Human Rights chamber, alleging this land was theirs. It became
such an issue the OHR decided to examine the case. Furthermore,
Doboj municipality's original application misstated a number of
facts requested by OHR for review.
the HR received the evidence that several beneficiaries were not
vulnerable groups and had either repossessed properties or had
access to reconstructed properties elsewhere, he suspended the
December 2000 waiver concerning construction of houses in Kotorsko.
That meant that all construction work on the concerned land must
cease. Jason O. Taylor, Deputy Head of Reconstruction and Return
Task Force (RRTF), explains: "Our review of the waiver request
demonstrates that the applications had very serious misstatements
of fact and that allocation right holder was a company called
Bosnocorp. The record revealed that the allocation right holder
was Enterijer Factory and that this factory transferred its allocation
right to the municipality. The condition of the transfer was that
beneficiaries had to be employees of the factory. And the effect
of this particular issue is that by legal criteria, they could
not meet the conditions of the waiver because someone who is an
employee of the factory cannot be considered as a vulnerable person."
municipality was asked to correct those misstatements and also
to define the precise limits of the plots that are identified
as private property in the land-ownership records. As long as
this process lasts, the municipality must ensure the suspension
of the construction on all plots. Marking the boundaries of this
area is a technical question because the map is based on the 1972
survey; but these plots that are still registered on privately
owned land are based on an old Austro-Hungarian land-mapping system.
The Geodesic Institute of Sarajevo has defined the boundaries
and determined which of these current plots would be affected
by the decision; that information has been forwarded to the various
ministries and parties.
"It's a huge problem," explains Taylor. "The law
that governs this type of transfer of land was appropriate in
the pre-war context. An allocation was generally done in the public
interest and in a non-discriminatory fashion. All the institutions
were multi-ethnic. In the post-war context this law no longer
seems appropriate. Different sides of the conflict can now use
what is public property to allow benefits for their constituents.
This requires a reform in the legislation governing land transfer
and this process has been recently initiated."
Meanwhile, the NPBG continues to patrol, thus avoiding any incidents
in this contentious area.
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