The long way back to Zepa
Lt. Eric Bouysson
First published in
SFOR Informer#134, March 14, 2002
Displaced people from the area of Zepa are back in their
pre-war homes seven years after leaving them. This has been
made possible by the support of charitable organisations,
which have rebuilt their houses, and SFOR, who have moved
their belongings. Time is healing the wounds.
Zepa - For Zilka and Omer Avdic the arrival of their modest
pieces of furniture is the hallmark of the end of an exodus.
They have been living as Displaced Persons (DP) for seven
years in Sarajevo Canton since the war. Their current house
will be sealed after their departure: the municipality does
not know where the owners, possibly Bosnian-Serbs, are. Some
50 other families from Zepa have filed requests with the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to return.
Mr. Bhandari Bishnu from Nepal, the head of the Local Return
and Reconstruction Task Force (L-RRTF), has been the co-ordinator.
"The funding is coming from the International Community,
mainly from the Qatar Charitable Society (QCS) and from the
Royal Embassy of the Netherlands." Dutch Capt. Bert Jongepier,
SFOR liaison officer to UNHCR for south-eastern BiH, explained
how he made a lot of phone-calls to get the four-wheeled trucks
he was looking for. "I intended to ask the Greeks, but
their trucks were not available. Both the Italian Battle Group,
where they are coming from, and the German one, where they
are going to, are involved."
The arrival of the couple's belongings is a moment of happiness,
but their feelings are mixed. "We are very grateful to
SFOR. We could not afford the cost of moving, which is as
much as 200 KM," says Omer. "I have been missing
my home, but not as much as I am missing my children. There
is no school for them here; they have to stay in Sarajevo
till June," says Zilka with tears in her eyes.
Not a rosy future
"We did not receive any help from the government, neither
at the State nor at the Entity levels," says Omer. "We
have very little to leave with, just some cattle," adds
Zilka. "I have been jobless for more than ten months.
I was not a farmer before, I was working in a nearby sawmill
before the war, but it is closed down now," Omer reflected.
"We cannot do without help. Who would want to live here?"
asks Zilka. Mohamed Ouchene, the Algerian director of the
delegation of the QCS, explained that there is a plan to connect
some of the houses to the power grid, but that there is not
enough money for all the houses. Srecko Neuman, from the UNHCR
headquarters in Sarajevo, recalled that the houses were finished
in November, but snow falls blocked the roads, preventing
the DPs from returning.
A safe area, eventually
As far as security is concerned, Zilka and Omer feel confident
and safe. The German Battle Group will continue to routinely
check that the area remains as quiet as it has been for the
last three months when the first returnees arrived. As the
economy improves and allows people to bet on the future, time
may eventually heal the wounds. The commitment of the International
Community, including SFOR, is still seen to be essential for
a secure future.