At the northeastern corner

Sgt. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#131, January 31, 2002

Six years after the signing in Paris of the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP), hundreds of thousands of Displaced Persons and Refugees (DPREs) are still unable to enter in their pre-war homes. As stated in Annex 7 of the GFAP, the ability to return was one of the key isssues which ended the war in BiH.

Bijeljina - GFAP granted to some 2.5 millions people, refugees abroad or displaced within the country (mostly in the other Entity) the right to settle back in their former homes. The creation of the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) did not ease the process.
Obstacles
People, who dare to cross the IEBL to claim their former homes often come up against political, economic and bureaucratic barriers. The aim of the Finnish CIMIC is to reduce those obstacles and support returnees in carrying out the required procedures.
Demarcated in the north by the Sava River, in the east by the Drina River and in the south by the Majevica Mountains, the municipality of Bijeljina forms a strategic triangle in the north-eastern corner of BiH, at the crossroads with both Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the war, Bijeljina was the first town to be attacked by paramilitary militias, better known as Arkan's Tigers. On the night of April 1st 1992 and during the four following days, thousands of Bosniaks were slaughtered and their properties plundered and destroyed. Out of the 30,000 inhabitants, who were not Bosnian-Serbs in Bijeljina, 27,000 were killed, expelled or forced to leave. The ethic cleansing dramatically changed the demographic situation. Bijeljina municipality is now populated with 94 percent Bosnian-Serbs. Its outskirts, Janja, had 97 percent of Bosniacs inhabitants before the war ; they are now less than 25 percent.
Successes
In spite of these horrific statistics, about 8,500 Bosniacs returned to Bijeljina Municipality, and among them some 4,000 to Janja. The process is a very long one, because 3,720 B-Serb displaced families are still living in the municipality. "It is the reason why we opened a CIMIC House in Bijeljina and an other one in Janja, comments Capt. Toni Rikkonen, chief of the second team of the 3rd CIMIC centre. The situation improved during the last two years, despite some violent incidents that occurred last summer (See SFOR Informer number 123). The number of criminal offences downtown is increasing, but according to the local police 70 percent of the muggings have nothing to do with inter-ethnic rivalries. Overall, the economic situation of the area is worrying." In this region, 75 percent of the economydepends on agriculture, while commerce and industry are in their infancy.
The Finnish touch
"Our two CIMIC houses register about 500 visits monthly," comments Rikkonen. "They mostly deal with property repossession concerns and scheduled evictions." About 115 people are expelled each month, because they are illegally occupying someone else's home. We need more alternative accommodation for those people. This is a problem the municipality has to deal with."
The Finns, who form the Divisional CIMIC of Multinational Division North, are working on all fronts. Their knowledge of the situation, their open minds and their overall dedication to DPRE's concerns make them a valuable asset of SFOR in north-eastern BiH. Local population is well aware of it. Year 2002 could see a breakthrough in the returns to this contentious area.

Related links: CIMIC
Nations of SFOR: Finland

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Photos: PO Andy Gedge

Velimir Kapur and his son Janko, abandoned and forgotten somewhere between Janja and Obrijez.


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The smile of Mladenka.


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1st Lt. Rekkonen and Capt. Iivari give boots to Velmir and Janko.