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Bosnia-Herzegovina: UNHCR alarmed by violence aimed at stopping Serb returns

Bosnia-Herzegovina: UNHCR alarmed by violence aimed at stopping Serb returns

The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm at a spate of attacks in Croat-controlled parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina aimed at preventing Serbs from returning to areas they lived in before the war.

A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kris Janowski, told reporters in Geneva that there had been no casualties in two recent attacks, "but they are a cause for alarm since they clearly represent an attempt to intimidate Serbs trying to return to their pre-war homes."

Last Friday, an explosive device was thrown at the house of a Serb who had just returned to a village near Grahovo, 150 kilometres west of Sarajevo, according to UNHCR. Just two days earlier, a school rebuilt by the Norwegian Refugee Council was blown up in another Grahovo area village. "The authorities planned to use the building to house Serb returnees while their homes were being repaired," Mr. Janowski noted.

The spokesman called the recent incidents in the Grahovo area a "sad exception in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina, where more and more people are going back to live among their former enemies."

Before the recent violence, more than 3,000 ethnic Serbs returned to Grahovo without incident. Prior to the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, the Grahovo municipality was almost entirely populated by ethnic Serbs, who later fled fighting in the area. They started trickling back only in 1998.

"So far this year, a record 8,723 people have gone back to areas controlled by their former foes," Mr. Janowski observed. UNHCR estimates that since the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in November 1995, the number of people internally displaced by the conflict has been cut from over 800,000 to 518,000.