By 2nd Lt. Bruno Ménard
First published in
SFOR Informer#117, July 11, 2001
For the fourth time, Ambassadors from ten nations
participated in the tour of return areas in Multi-National Division-North.
This tour was jointly organized by SFOR, OHR and UNHCR to promote
a greater understanding of the return process and the problems
the returnees are facing.
There were 14 VIP's escorted by Turkish Capt. Radomir
who flew in the Dutch Cougar helicopter. The aircraft took off
at 11:02 from the helipad of Butmir, to make the journey to Gornje
Kolibe, in Bosanski Brod/Srpski Brod Municipality, as the first
destination. Over the green and brown landscape, a ballet of helicopters
were flying towards the north.
27, ten Ambassadors assisted the return process by visiting key
areas, such as Gornje Kolibe, an agricultural village, and Janja,
a security hot spot, in MND-North. It was also an opportunity
to draw the attention and resources of the International Community
to promote the return of displaced persons and refugees (DPRE)
to their pre-war homes, with the assistance of SFOR.
Welcoming committees from United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) and security forces were waiting for the delegation.
Among them, Aida Babovic, the young interpreter from the UNHCR
sub-office of Tuzla, welcomed the press, the Ambassadors and other
officials escorted them to the waiting cars. The cars then headed
towards Kolibe, which is the oldest Bosniac return area in Bosanski
Brod/Srpski Brod municipality.
Model for co-existence
The convoy of white cars, with the two black letters 'UN' painted
on the side doors, wormed its way on the badly dented roads, among
the red-bricked houses and the empty destroyed buildings. Without
any presence of life, it was like a ghost village. At last, the
delegation reached its destination, Kolibe. According
to the Office of the High Representative (OHR), Gornje Kolibe
is a model for multi-ethnic co-existence. Participants, surrounded
by a curious crowd, went inside a house, which looked like a village
hall, because of the party novelties hung from the ceiling. As
part of the introduction, a videotape was shown which documented
the recent history of Gornje Kolibe, from 1998 to 2001. This began
with Kolibe in 1998. Pictures showed a destroyed village, with
empty houses, holes in the roofs, and sometimes only one wall
standing among ruins. The village centre resembled a lunar landscape.
In 1999, everything changed. Old buildings were cleaned and new
houses were reconstructed. The houses have been furnished with
beds, clothes provided and so on. Some bags of cement for rebuilding
could be seen. The village residents cleaned the floor, dug the
holes. In the last years (2000-2001), an electricity network has
been installed, a new yellow-walled school was built, the water
system has been repaired and a new spring inaugurated. "This
is a new Gornje Kolibe," said the Mayor of the town, with
a large smile. Cement was provided by UNHCR and furniture (mainly
school chairs and tables) by SFOR. Jan. 18, 2001, representatives
from SFOR and UNHCR officially opened the village hall. The videotape
ended with the Internet Web site, "www.kolibe.com",
underlining the rapid effort of rebuilding in this region.
Outside, children welcomed the Ambassadors with a rose, inviting
them to visit their parents' homes. A table had been set out in
every garden. The old mother and her two daughters wore their
embroidered white scarves on her heads, in order to meet Wolfgang
Petritsch, the High representative (HR). On the way, a label from
the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
is stuck every five metres on the electricity posts.
Ambassadors and villagers
Ambassadors were invited to enter the houses and to have a discussion
with the families. As an example, the Ambassador of Austria, Dr.
Gerhard Jandl, spoke with the family of Saban Havic. He is a returnee,
a man around 45, with drawn features and electric blue-eyes. His
parents, his son's family and his wife live with him. His son,
25, a father of two children, is unemployed. The old father explained
his situation, while his daughter-in-law served coffee, soft drinks
and cream cakes. "I came back with my family five years ago.
I visited this village and I got this house three years ago,"
he said. "How do you see your future?" asked Jandl.
"It is very difficult for us. My son is out of work, so we
accommodate him and his family. I get 100 DM monthly for working
in the factory near the Croatian border. Yes, it is difficult
to look to the future." That is why people are glad to meet
the Ambassadors and the HR; they can explain their problems.
A difficult area
common point with the next village is the warmth of the welcome.
After a short trip in the helicopters, all the VIP's get into
their cars again, and headed in the direction of Janja, Municipality
of Bijeljina, accompanied by the soldiers of the Peacekeeping
Russian Separate Airborne Brigade (PRSAB). The Mayor and the Chief
of Police welcomed the guests. After all the speeches by the President,
the Deputy President of the Janja multi-ethnic Board, representative
of UNHCR and the OHR, "we are surely on the right way,"
concluded Mr. Ljubojevic, Mayor of Bijeljina. "We have time
now to solve the return problem," he added, among the TV
cameras, the crowd and the press microphones. Then, the High representative,
surrounded by Bosnian journalists, visited the family of Mohamed
Godusevic, in Brace Lazica Street, a place known for violent incidents
in July 2000. The house of this Bosniac returnee is well-equipped,
with fresh water, electricity, furniture and even a television
aerial. In front of the stairs, next to the vegetable garden,
there is a carpet full of shoes.
According to the delegates, some people haven't got a house. That
is the case of an old woman, who lived in Janja and owned an orchard
of fruit trees. Now, "I have to go to Tuzla tomorrow, in
order to get assistance. The only problem is that we need money,"
she explained to two Ambassadors of the delegation. She has asked
for three different aid packages. "We hope it will be better."
That is also the wish of the whole International Community. The
Ambassadors were impressed with what they had seen, while returnees
felt they had well and truly been listened to first hand about
their reintegration problems and concerns.
Related links: Humanitarian
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