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Refugee Showdown near Doboj
U.S. Choppers Scatter Crowds
Refusing to Allow Refugees to Return

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — U.S. military helicopters patrolling central Bosnia on Sunday buzzed an ugly showdown between Muslim refugees and Serbs, kicking up enough wind and dust to send the crowds home. The show of force defused one instance of what is rapidly becoming a major headache for the NATO-led peace force.

Refugees intent on using the Dayton peace agreement’s guarantees of freedom of movement are pressing to return home to territory controlled by their foes. Aid officials are placed in the uncomfortable position of support their right to return while urging caution because of the potential for violence.

Maj. Jerry Renne, a NATO spokesman, said two U.S. helicopters, a Blackhawk and an Apache, were on routine patrol Sunday near Serb-held Doboj when they noticed a gathering of civilians. The choppers buzzed the crowd, kicking up wind and clouds of dust. “It seemed to do the trick,’ Renne said. The helicopters “hovered over the crowd, at which point the crowd began to disperse.”

A group of about 100 Muslims, including women, children and old people, were in the group that tried to reach Doboj on Sunday to visit homes and cemeteries. The confrontation with about 200 Serbs, mostly younger men, took place at a front-line bridge over the Usora River, about five miles to the southwest of Doboj. One of them waved a black Bosnian Serb war flag with a skull and cross bones. The two sides threw rocks at each other and exchanged insults. Danish soldiers of the peace force arrived with an armored vehicle to ensure that no one crossed the bridge, and the crowd dispersed when the choppers settled low over the area.

On Friday, Czech soldiers posted in northwest Bosnia opened fire over the heads of Muslims and Serbs to disperse. That incident happened when about 200 Muslim refugees crossed into Serb-held territory in hopes of seeing their homes. They were met by angry Serb residents.

Randolph Ryan, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said Friday’s confrontation in northwest Bosnia “was an extremely dangerous situation that is a likely precursor to coming events unless parties agree soon to have a phased return (of refugees).” He warned that unless local Serb, Muslim and Croat authorities genuinely started respecting the right to freedom of movement, such incidents would soon become the norm.

Additional resources
Apr 20 · Violence Expected as Refugees Return Home
Apr 20 · In 9 of 10 Cases, Authorities Blocking Refugee Return

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