By Sgt. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#128, December 12, 2001
A symbol of resistance, Gorazde was the only
United Nations Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) "Safe Area"
that didn't fall. Thousands of Bosniac Displaced Persons (DP)
sought shelter in the city during the siege. Since 1995, the Inter
Entity Boundary Line divides the city. On one side, Bosniac DPs
are waiting to return to their homes in Southeast Bosnia and Herzegovina
(BiH), to Visegrad, Rudo, Rogatica, Sokolac, Pale and Kopaci -
theatre of the darkest episodes of the war. On the other side,
in Republika Srpska, B-Serbs are waiting to return to their homes
in what is now the Federation, to towns like Sarajevo, Jajce,
Bosansko Grahovo and Gorazde.
- With the arrival of the Alpine Italian patrol, the seemingly
uninhabited district suddenly comes to life. People begin gathering
around the soldiers. They emerge from the few newly-constructed
houses, harshly juxtaposed against destroyed homes.
Obarak district shelters the biggest organised community of Bosniac
returnees in Gorazde. Some 80 men, 60 women and about 40 children
started to come back here this year, but are still unable to settle
permanently. Five houses are in liveable condition and only one
has been completed. Before the war, a thousand people lived here,
and the district was mixed. "They are in the first phase
of return and still need assistance," explains 2nd Lt. Igor
Piani, team leader from the 14th Alpine regiment of Friuli, actually
based in Rogatica. "United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) provides them with food, clothes and basic supplies,
and we assure the distribution during our patrols."
old and I refuse to spend the rest of my life as a DP. I feel
like a stranger in my own country," protests Stana Perendija,
spokesman for the local community.
"The determination of the returnees to recover their pre-war
homes is a very important factor," explains Bashir Khan,
head of the UNHCR Field Office for Eastern BiH.
In past years, violent attacks by Bosnian-Serb hard-liners slowed
the process. While physical attacks rarely happen these days,
harassment of returnees continues to be a problem.
"Obarak community, because of its size is an easy target
and has to face provocation from the other side," observes
Piani. "B-Serbs try to keep the balance between the two communities,
as the return are going on both sides of the IEBL, some metres
the largest town straddling the river Drina in eastern BiH, was
one of the several "Safe Areas" (along with Srebrenica
and Zepa) that UNPROFOR were assigned to protect. The total population
of Gorazde was 37,000 with around 30 percent (11,000) of that
being B-Serb. Close to the border with Montenegro, Gorazde remains
a geographically important city; a munitions factory in town made
it a target during the war. The city was established as a military
centre in 1993 by Bosniac forces, but B-Serb forces, supported
by Serbia and Montenegro, launched a counteroffensive and laid
the siege of Sarajevo and Gorazde. The city, surrounded by high
steep hills, was repeatedly attacked, exposed to frequent shelling
and considerably damaged.
In March 1994, the Bosniacs started another offensive and destroyed
many B-Serb positions, but the siege was soon re-established.
NATO then produced a series of ultimatums requiring the B-Serb
withdraw. April 24, UN Forces take position in the city. However,
at the end of the war, villages around Gorazde that fell to the
Serbs, like Kopaci, on the Right Bank of the Drina, were incorporated
into a new municipality in the RS, termed Srpsko Gorazde. There
were 3,668 Bosniacs living in that part of the municipality in
1991, and 674 B-Serbs. Around 1,200 houses were destroyed in Kopaci.
The level of industrial production in Gorazde before the war was
higher than the rest of BiH. Four factories were located in Kopaci.
Today, industrial activity is almost non-existent. The RS surrounds
Gorazde. It is connected to the rest of the Federation by an access
road, as stipulated by the GFAP. The economy continues to stagnate.
It is now hoped that the old factories can be restored and new
ones built. "The International Community must also play its
part, giving more emphasis to sustainability by assisting with
agricultural tools, professional tools and establishing a team
of skilled workers to assist with selected cases of self-help
projects," explains Khan. "The most important thing
is to create the conditions for sustainable return: job creation,
restarting of pre-war enterprises, stimulating the economy and
revitalising pre-war co-operation."
is a strategic town in the return process. Returnees could support
themselves by working in nearby Gorazde and in the factories in
Kopaci itself. It can serve as a logistical point of departure
and support for return to Visegrad, Rogatica, Rudo and other locations
further afield in Southeast BiH.
Despite the lack of economic opportunities, hundreds of persons
expressed their willingness to return. During 2001, 1,489 properties
were claimed in Gorazde. A total of 1450 decisions were approved
and 623 were implemented. Concerning Srpsko Gorazde, 1,706 were
claimed, 914 were issued and 359 effectively repossessed. The
implementation ratio is 41.84 percent on the Federation side and
21.04 percent on the RS side. "These results are reasonable,"
comments Khan. "But hundreds of displaced Bosniacs have set
up tents, waiting for permission to rebuild their houses."
They are mostly concentrated on the Inter Entity Boundary Line
(IEBL), separating Gorazde from its former suburb Kopaci.
are about 180 people living in extremely poor conditions in the
area for the time being," says Piani. "Twenty-five percent
don't have access to water. They are mostly elderly and retired.
Some receive a pension, about 60 to 70KM. The great concern for
us is the people living far from the centre of the city. In winter
season, the transit of material and food can be very difficult
and some families remain isolated."
Over the last few months, Upper Drina Economic Working Group initiative
started operating. Members of the group are representatives from
each municipality in the upper Drina region. The point is to put
those people at the same table and to give one voice to the region
instead of separate voices. In 2002, Islamic Relief is planning
some projects in the Foca/Srbinje and Gorazde areas. The Italian
CIMIC Unit initiated some projects (Gorazde Hospital, road and
bridge construction), but is still waiting for donations. These
projects could determine the outcome of the coming year and help
people to definitively re-establish themselves in the region.
Unfortunately, the returns have stopped for now and returnees
have abandoned their unfinished homes, condemned to live as DPs
for another season.
Related links: Nations of SFOR: Italy