Perspective: From Vicious Hell of War to Paradise of Life at Home Forgotten CRISIS; as Soon as the First Peace Agreements Were Being Signed in Bosnia Herzegovina, Hundreds of Refugees Returned Home to Face an Uncertain Future. Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Meets a Couple Battling against the Odds to Rebuild Their Lives
Byline: Paul Groves
We are in Republika Srpska, the heart of bandit country where loyalties to alleged Serbian war criminals remain as strong as ever.
The white 4x4 we are riding in lacks the initials 'UN' as it belongs to the charity World Vision but, as we make our way from Sarajevo deep into the mountains and forests that are still home to healthy populations of wolves and bears, it is hard to ignore the looks of mistrust from those at the roadside.
We pass through small villages and larger towns where the West is not welcome and which, unbelievably when you see other parts of Bosnia Herzegovina, survived unscathed during the war because of their unswerving allegiance to Serbia.
A few days earlier, Nato forces had captured a former military commander who is now to stand trial for a catalogue of alleged crimes. On a previous visit to a nearby village, an aid worker had stumbled across a meeting of local men dressed in the paramilitary uniforms of the war, pledging their continuing allegiance to Slobodan Milosevic as he stands trial in The Hague, accused of countless atrocities. The local Mafia is also very active, its malevolent influence felt just about everywhere.
Yet, stood at the head of a valley surrounded by wooded mountains on a glittering, cloudless day, you cannot help but think that you are in one of the most beautiful countries in Europe.
Our exact location is the tiny village of Gordenje, a collection of little more than half-a-dozen dwellings at the meeting point of a network of rutted and potholed stone tracks.
We are stood above the two ramshackle wooden huts that Ismet and Sedeta Ilic once again call home. Next to the huts is the more sturdy-looking livestock shed and the couple have already worked hard to get crops growing on their land.
They face an uncertain future, not least because of the continuing hostility and intimidation they claim to receive in nearby towns and villages.
It is only a few short years since they fled in fear and watched Serbs who were once their neighbours use explosives supplied by the military to destroy their home. Left for years without attention, the land they once farmed became overgrown and they also faced the problem of wild boars roaming free over the land where their cattle and sheep once grazed.
Yet, although they had no home to return to, their land needed to be cultivated from scratch and they had to get rid of the threat from wild animals, Sedeta persuaded her husband to return even before the official peace agreements had been signed.
'I knew the fighting had stopped and a peace agreement was being talked about,' explains Sedeta. 'I knew it probably was not safe, but I told my husband I wanted to come back here. He tried to tell me we were better off staying put, or going to Sarajevo, but I don't like it in the city and this is my home.'
The couple received help from World Vision in building up a new livestock herd and completing a shelter for their animals. But they will have to rebuild their home from scratch, and electricity supplies have still not been restored to the village.
'We know there are empty houses near here, but this is the spot we want to live in,' says Ismet, before cracking a wide smileand adding: 'My wife is a very hard worker and I believe that in two years' time we will be living in paradise again.'
He earns a scolding look from his wife, but it is hard to argue. The couple have already managed to achieve so much and their farm is once more taking shape.
'We have a great spot here and the land is good for growing crops and for rearing livestock,' continues Ismet, as he explains that the biggest problem they currently face is selling produce and buying food and supplies.
'I prefer to go to Sarajevo (a day's drive there and back) because the prices are so much better and it is easier for us to sell, plus in the Serb towns they are not so happy to buy from us. …