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Bijeljina watched over by the IC

By 2nd Lt. Alexandre Barb
First published in
SFOR Informer#114, May 30, 2001

Maj. Gen. Roger Duburg, DCOMSFOR, Werner Blatter, chief of mission of UNHCR and Franois Perez, special envoy of the high representative in Bijeljina visited two families in Bijeljina and Janja. They also met local officials of these two towns.

Bijeljina - Mr. Alimujkic and his wife, Bosniacs, live in a shack on the road out from Bijeljina (RS). A small cupboard as a kitchen, an old cowshed for the shower, their pre-war home is inhabited by Bosnian-Serbs who lived in the Federation before.
"We've been living like this for four years; the occupants should have left our house on Nov. 30, 2000, in accordance with an eviction decision, but they haven't gone yet," explained Hamdija Alimujkic. It seems that the situation is inextricable because the occupying family asserts not being be able to return to Olovo (Federation), as their pre-war home is occupied by another family.
This case of a seven-member family is not an isolated one, although it is more and more unusual to meet such, thanks to the joint effort of the local offices of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bijeljina. In their jargon, those families are called "floaters." It means that they obtained the legal repossession of their pre-war house, but they can't move in because the eviction of illegal occupants has not yet occurred. Very often, they are forced to live in bad conditions. According to a member of OHR in Bijeljina, managed by Franois Perez, about 200 floater cases have been solved during the year 2000. There are about 35 cases to be solved in Bijeljina and one in Janja.
Volunteer returns

Population composition in Janja and Bijeljina

Before war
Bosniacs 8,000
Bosniacs 3,000
Bosnian-Serbs 11,000
The Bosnian-Serbs of Janja are all displaced persons.
During the war, the population of Janja rotated almost 100 percent.

Before war

+/- 97,000

Today the total population figure is uncertain and can be as high as 120,000, among them 27,000 Bosnian-Serb displaced persons coming from the areas of Tuzla, Sarajevo and Zenica. It is estimated that 10 to 30 percent of those Bosnian-Serb DPs will return to the Federation.

"We note a strong will of people to come back and live here, because they pay rent and they are supported by strong organisations," noticed Franois Perez. "Normally, the illegal occupants of your house will be soon evicted," he confirmed to Hamdija Alimujkic.
A meeting held at Bijeljina's city hall with Mr. Stelic, deputy mayor of Bijeljina (because the mayor was attending another meeting in Banja Luka on that day), and Dragan Peric, president of the Municipal Council, allowed the speakers to talk about the problems related to returns of Bosniacs within the municipality and of Bosnian-Serbs to the Federation. Of course, the recent events in Janja, a few kilometres away, was the point of the conversations (see box).
On the road to Janja, the delegation met an SFOR patrol. They were Russians, in a BTR 80, who were coming from Camp Ugljevik. In accordance with its mandate (Annex 1A of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, GFAP), SFOR's mission is to provide a safe and secure environment, a guarantee of better conditions for returns all over BiH.
As they arrived in the little town, Duburg and Blatter, accompanied by translators, discreetly drove to the house of Ms. Zubarevic. She's been living back here for one year now with her two sons; her husband is in hospital. It's one of the three Bosniacs families in the neighbourhood. On May 12, for the fourth time, her house was stoned.
The facts
"The stoning started on Saturday evening and continued through the weekend. They threw stones from outside the courtyard. Since then, patrols have increased," Zubarevic related. "We've been living here peacefully for one year. I remember that at the beginning of the war, we lived in this house for two years with another family. Then we had to leave. When we came back, the temporary occupants were waiting for us but we had no problems," she continued.
The council of Janja local community is well aware of all those incidents. Its president, Nenad Cuturilo, with the deputy president of the council, Sulejman Skokic, tried not to worry his speakers. "We've decided to establish a new community council composed by representatives of the different ethnic groups of the town including displaced persons and refugees (DPRE). It has been approved by OSCE and we try to 'normalise' life in Janja as much as possible," he declared.
The proof is the new composition of the local police, in which 11 Bosniacs out of the 70 officers are working. The deputy station commander is a Bosniac as well. The local police are in charge of investigating and arresting the perpetrators of the stoning.
Uncertain future

One year of incidents in Janja and Bijeljina
The first incident happened in Janja in July 2000 against Bosniac returnees.
Since Jan. 1, 2001, IPTF reported 14 Bosniak houses have been stoned.
On April 28, on appeal by the "Association of war invalids and families of fallen soldiers," a demonstration gathered about 500 Bosnian-Serbs in Bijeljina against the eviction process in this town.
At the beginning of May, 40 bullets were fired into the weekend house belonging to a Bosniac.
On May 9, a hand grenade was thrown at the house of Janja's former police chief, Petar Kojic, who was dismissed in July 2000.
On May 11, a hand grenade was thrown at a Bosniac house.
On May 12, a hand grenade was thrown at the house of an RS police officer, Mirsad Sukelovic, who also is a returnee.
On May 12 and 13, the house of Ms. Zubarevic was stoned many times.

"As long as the questions of property and security are not solved, we can't think about other projects or mobilise the international community for more economic investments," Blatter highlighted. "As a community council, you have great responsibilities, but also great opportunities to talk to the people and explain that the law is the law for everyone," he added.
"We'll make the infrastructure work and we'll go and visit the families that have been attacked to see how we can provide them with some help. We strongly condemn these stonings, but we don't have any executive power. We are ready to carry out these actions because we want a better future," Cuturilo answered.
The conclusion came out of these words from Blatter: "We see that more and more Bosnian-Serbs want to go back to the Federation. It's up to the individuals to decide, nobody can force them; but we have the responsibility to provide DPs with the correct information about their rights. In Bijeljina's municipality, a lot of progress has been achieved thanks to the co-operation between OHR, OSCE, UNHCR and SFOR. We're on the right track, but there are still many problems to be solved."

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