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The lost souls of Srebrenica
Part Two of a two-part series

By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#126, November 14, 2001

Srebrenica was the first United Nations Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) "Safe Area" to disappear in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). On July 11, 1995, General Ratko Mladic's Serb Army staged a brutal take-over of the enclave. According to the indictment filed by the International Crime Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), over a period of five days, Serb soldiers separated Bosniac families, systematically murdered some 8,000 men and boys, and organised the deportation of 40,000 others. As a French parliamentary commission is about to give its statements on the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II, the situation of thousands of survivors still remains uncertain.

Srebrenica - Annex 7 of General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) states that all displaced persons and refugees have the right to return to their pre-war houses. But application of the Property Law Implementation Plan (PLIP) is only partial in some parts of the Republika Srpska. The implementation ratio in Srebrenica is only 6.7 percent, and it's the lowest in BiH. Among 4,534 registered claims, 1,204 were finally accepted, but only 304 families are in position to repossess their property.
"These result must be relativised," explains a UNHCR field officer. "These are not return statistics. It doesn't mean that the people actually returned to their pre-war homes. For a combination of economic and security reasons, some prefer renting, selling or exchanging their property to live elsewhere."
But some don't have the choice. About 118 Bosniacs started to return to Srebrenica Municipality this year. Some 15 families, which means approximately 100 people live in the city. Most of them choose to live out of town or in other municipalities in the neighbourhood, such as Bratunac or Soceska village where the first returnees came in June 2000. It is easier to start farming there.
These returns were interrupted in December last year after a Bosniac was assassinated. In the course of the last six years, many Bosniac returnees were victims of attacks, hand grenades, harassment or provocation. Some houses were burned, particularly in Bratunac, Zvornik and Vlasenica. "Minority returnees fear for their security, but the situation is really better since Camp Connor was constructed," observes Staff Sgt. Ronald Wedderman. "New reconstruction all around the base testifies to this. We struggle every day to bring back life in this place."
But nothing can be done until the situation of B-Serbs, illegally occupying Bosniac houses, remains unsolved. Unfortunately, the B-Serb hard-liner party (SDS), as well as the Bosniac SDA, obstruct the return process. "Their strategy is to maintain ethnically pure territories separated by the Inter Entity Boundary Line (IEBL)," explains Maj. Wala, 2nd Finnish CIMIC team commander. "People in poor areas can be influenced by these kinds of arguments."
Among the 15,000 B-Serbs currently living in the municipality (8,000 live downtown), only 10 percent are from Srebrenica. Most of them are displaced persons, coming from more than 50 municipalities throughout the Federation. They had to flee their homes after the Naser Oric offensive in 1992-1993 or they left Sarajevo in fear of retaliations in 1996. Their condition is very difficult too. Some 15,000 displaced persons, who have spent the last six years in Bratunac are leaving this municipality to start a new life in other places in RS. Only 8,000 of them still live there today.
Living again
Many local and international organisations took action to rebuild houses and repair infrastructure before the winter. Approximately 492 projects were approved by donors in 2001, mostly by the Federation Ministry for Social Affairs, DPs and Refugees and the Finnish and Norwegian government. "But we need more donations and it is virtually impossible to recreate a pre-war community," explains the UNHCR field officer. "There is neither agricultural production nor economic activity in the region. Actually UNHCR developed a bus line as well as a bakery project in the centre of the city."
But thousands of survivors are still suffering, seeking for the truth. They still don't know what happened to their families and relatives. This year the Federation Commission for Missing Persons announced that a team exhumed 1,000 Srebrenica victims, bringing the total to 5,000. Some 20,000 people remain unaccounted for, most of them Bosniacs, six years after the war that tore the Balkans to pieces.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: US
SFOR at Work

The lost souls of Srebrenica (part I)