Bosnia and Herzegovina

Returns to Bosnia near one million mark

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SARAJEVO, Feb 6 (UNHCR) - Since the guns fell silent in Bosnia more than seven years ago, nearly one million people have returned to their pre-war homes. This represents nearly half of more than two million people uprooted by the longest and the bloodiest of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
The UN refugee agency has reported that among those who have gone back are 390,000 people who have returned to areas controlled by their former enemies. Their return is seen as at least a partial reversal of "ethnic cleansing" - the grim landmark of the conflicts which followed the break-up of former Yugoslavia.

Last year alone, more than 100,000 people went back to areas dominated by other ethnic groups. They included 39,000 Bosniaks who went back to live in Serb-controlled areas, 30,000 ethnic Serbs who went back to the Bosniak- and Croat-controlled areas, and 11,000 ethnic Croats who returned to their homes in regions today dominated by Bosniaks and Serbs.

"What made it possible is the courage and perseverance of the displaced themselves who have returned against often seemingly insurmountable odds," said Udo Janz, who runs UNHCR's operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Janz said returns to Bosnia have steadily picked up over the past few years. He cited a number of reasons for the increased pace of returns, such as improved overall security, a better economic situation, and new property legislation which enables the original owners to reclaim their houses.

The UNHCR official noted that by the end of last year, 170,000 homes had been successfully reclaimed by their rightful owners - 70 percent of all property that can be reclaimed under the new Property Law. He also pointed to the international reconstruction effort in Bosnia and various projects designed to boost economic activity as additional impetus for returns.

The UN refugee agency has been involved in Bosnia since 1992 and led a large-scale humanitarian relief effort there during the war. Under the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, UNHCR was given the task to oversee the return to Bosnia of those uprooted by the conflict.