Bosnia and Herzegovina

West Condemns Attacks on Refugees in Serb Bosnia

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Reuters) - International officials overseeing Bosnia's peace process condemned Thursday what they called increasing violence against refugees returning to their pre-war homes in Bosnian Serb territory.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), which coordinates civilian efforts to rebuild the Balkan country, said there had been more than 30 incidents directed against returnees in Bosnia's Serb republic in March alone.

''These incidents represent an escalation of intimidation aimed at obstructing the return process,'' OHR spokesman James Fergusson told reporters. He did not reveal the ethnicity of those attacked, but local media said they were Bosnian Muslims.

Fergusson said the situation was particularly worrisome in the northern town of Prnjavor, where four incidents have taken place this month. One returnee was killed and another injured in separate explosions.

No one has been convicted over these attacks.

''The OHR urges the local authorities to condemn such attacks in public, to ensure that perpetrators of such acts are brought to justice and to take action to prevent further incidents against minority returns,'' Fergusson said.

Under the Dayton peace treaty that ended the 1992-95 war, refugees have the right to go back to homes they fled or were expelled from during brutal campaigns of ''ethnic cleansing,'' which were conducted mainly by separatist Serb forces.

Despite this, almost 1.2 million people remain either internally displaced or live as refugees abroad, unable or unwilling to return to regions where those who were their ethnic adversaries during the war now rule in peacetime.

Post-war Bosnia consists of a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb republic.

The OHR said regional authorities in Bosnia must ensure that displaced persons and refugees are able to exercise their right to return in a secure environment.

''In order to stem the current tide of impunity, the OHR urges local and entity authorities to identify and punish the perpetrators of all criminal acts designed to impede minority return and to protect returnees,'' Fergusson said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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