NATO Frets: Bosnians Can't Go Home Again Former Foes Are Keeping Displaced from Returning to Homes

Article excerpt

Ensuring freedom of movement is fast becoming the principal mission of American-led peace forces in Bosnia, as rival ethnic groups physically and sometimes violently prevent each other from crossing former lines of confrontation.

Though freedom of movement for all Bosnians is guaranteed by the Dayton peace plan, a series of orchestrated demonstrations in the past week have led to stonings and beatings, requiring the NATO peace Implementation Force (IFOR) troops to fire into the air to separate angry crowds.

NATO commanders and UN officials say that the clashes have been organized by leaders of Bosnia's Muslim, Croat, and Serb groups to "prove" that the factions can't live together in peace, and to increase support for hard-line nationalist policies. Freedom of movement is among the most important aspects of the peace agreement, because it paves the way for about 2 million displaced people and refugees - more than half of Bosnia's pre-war population - to return to their homes. Elections are due before mid-September, but Bosnians of all ethnic groups are being thwarted by former rivals from returning home to the areas from which they are to cast their ballots. "We clearly understand and support the right of individuals to return to their pre-war homes," said IFOR spokesman Maj. Simon Haselock. "{But} we are concerned by what seems to be a cynical attempt to manipulate the legitimate concerns of people about their property and homesteads for narrow, local ends. We are not going to become a rent-a-crowd-control organization." Boisterous crowds of several hundred Serbs last weekend blocked a group of as many Muslims - who were reportedly led by local Bosnian government officials and plainclothes policemen - from entering Serb-held territory at a bridge near of Doboj in northeast Bosnia. Nordic IFOR troops diffused a violent confrontation by firing into the air and separating the two groups. Another incident occurred on Wednesday in the western town of Glamoc, which was recaptured from Serbs by Croat forces in mid-1995. Some 600 Serbs tried to return to visit old homes and family graves but were blocked by Croat police. Six hours of negotiations failed, as a crowd of hundreds of Croats gathered in the center of the town and the Orthodox Serb cemetery to give an unsavory "welcome" to any Serbs who might get through the cordon. The Croat civilians carried anti-Serb banners. One Serb woman turned back, reportedly laid a flower wreath and left a traditional candle at the Croat checkpoint anyway. "If we can't go to the graveyard, we'll light our candles here," she said. …