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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 for housing.

Kotorsko - 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."
Other 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.
On 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 the site.
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.
Since 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."
The 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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