Bosnia: Returnee Homes Ravaged as Tensions Rise

Recent savage attack on Bosniak returnees' homes in a village in southern Bosnia forms part of a disturbing trend in the divided country.

9/10/2015- The recent ransacking of four houses belonging to Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] returnees in Drljajice, a remote hamlet in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, reaffirms concerns that ethnic tensions are worsening in the troubled country. When the Bosniak families, who only occasionally live in this village in a Croat-dominated region, came to their homes last weekend, they found them devastated. The extent of the damage was severe a week later. All the windows were broken, the roofs lifted off and most of the furniture upturned and scattered all over the place. "This reminded me of the war," said one of the residents, a woman who refused to give her name for fears of reprisal from the local "hooligans".

Graffiti sprayed on one of the houses - a capital letter"U" with the cross above it, the sign of the Croatian pro-Nazi Ustasha movement in World War II, clearly pointed to an ethnic motivation. Police said they were still investigating the incident, but locals said they had little hope that the perpetrators will ever be brought to justice. "The only thing I can tell you is that this wasn't done by ISIS but by vandals,” Camil Maslesa, a resident in his sixties, said. "This is the fourth time this has happened [over the last year]. We have reported it to the police twice before, but no perpetrators were discovered. This is the third time police were coming, and really, enough is enough!"

Maslesa said none of their belongings were stolen, which made it clear that the purpose of this attack was to scare them away. "Their motivation wasn't burglary, to take some stuff away, they just came to destroy our property," he told BIRN. "They came to scare us. I would even prefer to see some of the stuff was stolen because then it wouldn't be bad as it is now," Enis, another local resident in his twenties, said. "This sends me a message that I am not welcome here." Residents of the exclusively Bosniak village already fled their homes once, at the beginning of the 1992-5 war. When the war ended, some of them returned to their homes and rebuilt them. They come here occasionally, to work their fields or during the holidays. In a gesture of public support to the victims, local government officials visited the village on Wednesday and condemned the attack.

"The municipality of Citluk does not need this. Nobody needs this," Ivo Jerkic, head of Citluk municipality, said while surveying the damage. "Police were on the crime scene. The Interior Ministry is working on this case. We will do everything necessary to find the perpetrators," said Sladjan Bevanda, interior minister for the Herzego-vina Neretva Canton. But he warned that this was not the first time that returnees' property had been targeted, noting that some months ago several houses belonging to Croat returnees were wrecked in the village of Grabovica, which is located in a mainly Bosniak region. Bosnia has seen even worse incidents in recent months, including several physical attacks on returnees. Most took place in the northwest of the Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska, in and around the town of Prijedor, where many Bosniaks and a few Croats have returned since the war.

Another attack took place in the nearby Croat-dominated municipality of Tomislavgrad two months ago, when Bosnian Croat hooligans attacked a Bosniak neighbourhood. Local and international officials told BIRN that the number of ethnic incidents registered over this summer exceeded the total number of such incidents noted in several years. They said the rise in incidents testified to a dangerous increase in ethnic tensions, caused by radical political rhetoric, as well as Bosnia's prolonged political, economic and social crisis. "We believed that things like that were behind us, that this was the distant past. But it wasn't," Kemal Isakovic, head of the Herzegovina Neretva Canton Department for Refugees, said. "Now we all have to help this people to repair the damage – the municipality, the department and the Federation [entity] ministry for refugees and displaced persons."
Balkan Insight

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