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Two-way returns in Zvornik

By 1st Lt. Philippe Mouret
First published in
SFOR Informer#129, December 26, 2001

Tuesday, Dec. 11, Werner Blatter, Mission Chief in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Maj. Gen. François de Goësbriand, deputy commander of SFOR (DCOMSFOR), visited Bosko Milic, the mayor of Zvornik. This was to appraise the situation for the Displaced Persons (DPs) and Returnees in the area.

Zvornik - The town is located in Republika Srpska (RS), 75 kilometres northeast of Sarajevo, on the left bank of the Drina River. Two bridges connect it directly with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The city, one of the oldest in BiH, is situated on an important crossroads. It links Sarajevo to Belgrade (FRY), and Srebrenica with Tuzla. From time immemorial this was a place of exchange and of trade, but also of confrontation. The region was hotly contested during the war. The town council estimates that the Zvornik municipality has 55,000 inhabitants, of whom 25,000 are DPs.
A low PLIP ratio
Until a while ago, the area was considered a "black spot." The Property Law Implementation Plan (PLIP) was not being applied; returns were near non-existent and there were sharp tensions between Bosnian-Serbs, who are in the majority, and Bosniacs. Since the appointment of Angelina Tomic as Zvornik local office chief of the RS Municipal Office for Refugees ("Opstinsko Ministarstva za Izbjeglice," OMI), PLIP enforcement has improved. The implementation ratio increased from 3.37 to 15 percent between January and November 2001. That is to say a total of 885 buildings were repossessed out of the 5,897 submitted. However, this rate is very low, compared to 27 percent over the whole of the RS and 46 percent in Federation. According to Sarah Rattray, UNHCR satellite office head, this is due to OMI's lack of resources, as well as Banja Luka's lack of support. This is because the city does not have enough alternative accommodation.
Returnees flow both ways
In Kula Grad, 1.5 kilometres from Zvornik, returns began in February 2000. There, 250 houses were destroyed, all belonging to Bosniacs. Today, 84 houses have been rebuilt, work is ongoing, and 120 families have returned. Last year, minor incidents occurred, so SFOR maintains a strong presence.
In Zvornik City, 191 Bosniac houses were destroyed and 209 are occupied by Bosnian-Serbs DPs coming from the northern half of the Federation: Kakanj, Banovici, Konjic or Travnik. Eighteen houses have been pledged and the reconstruction of 10 houses will start this month. Thirty families have returned. Here again, security problems have appeared. In January 2001, some returnees' houses were shot at.
In Divic, at few kilometres upstream from Zvornik on the Drina River, there were 252 Bosniac homes before the war. Thirty are under reconstruction. The situation is very tense on the site because Bosniac returnees are close to Bosnian-Serbs coming from Visoko, Sarajevo or Banovici. From August 2000, at the time of the first returns, problems appeared. One year later, the evictions of DPs, belonging to Bosnian-Serb hard-liner factions, provoked demonstrations and riots. SFOR now gives specific attention to this area. The effort is focused on organising returns in two ways: to Divic, for Bosniac DPs, who used to live there before the war and to Banovici, Zavidovic and Sarajevo Canton, for Bosnian-Serb DPs who moved here during the conflict.
Finnish Civil-Military Co-operation (CIMIC) is very active in the area. Eight kilometres of roads have been reconstructed as well as 60 houses in Zeljova-Banovici, and eight homes in Vracevac-Zavidovici. This accommodation is intended for 80 Bosnian-Serb DP families waiting in Divic, Zvornik and Bijelina (RS) today. The spaces that they are going to release will allow the accommodation of Bosniac DPs still in the Federation.
The new mayor of Zvornik helped a lot to improve the situation. Milic is more moderate than his predecessor was. During the meeting with the town councillor, Blatter stressed the importance of co-operation between the Zvornik municipality and the OMI. He explained: "Those returns and the PLIP implementation will change the attitude of the donors and it will be easier to mobilise international funding for the economic development of Zvornik Municipality."
Milic was in complete agreement with him: "The municipality is here to assist Returnees […] I hope to change people’s opinion about Zvornik."
Later, de Goësbriand underlined that SFOR has the situation well in hand and that; "…the eviction of a former police chief [a week before the visit] greatly improved the situation."
Blatter and DCOMSFOR hope to see an improvement during the Ambassadors' Tour, next April.

Related links: SFOR at Work