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NATO: Refugees Used as Political Pawns
Serbs Organizing Patrols to Prevent
Return of Displaced Muslims

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — NATO accused Bosnia’s rival leaders Monday of manipulating the plight of refugees for political ends and warned that civilians could be hurt if orchestrated rallies continue. Soldiers in the NATO-led peacekeeping force have increasingly had to separate angry crowds. In two incidents over the weekend, soldiers fired into the air and U.S. helicopters buzzed crowds to disperse them. Several people were injured.

Serbs are organizing people, mostly young men, to prevent Muslim refugees from returning home. Bosnian government officials, meanwhile, are urging Muslims to try to visit their former residences to show that Serbs are blocking refugees’ right to return. The latest incidents proved that freedom of movement, one of the pillars of the Dayton peace agreement, is still far from guaranteed.

NATO spokesman Maj. Simon Haselock said NATO was “concerned by what seems to be a cynical attempt to manipulate concerns of people about their property and homesteads for narrow local or political ends.” The multinational troops will try harder to defuse tensions but such a policy carries high risks, he said. “If soldiers become involved in civilian disturbances ... there is a recipe and a potential for serious injury and fatality,” Haselock said. Soldiers have not been trained in crowd control, and do not carry riot shields or tear gas, he said.

Near Doboj, Danish and Polish troops fired over rival Muslim and Bosnian Serb crowds Sunday after they were pelted with “dangerous objects,” the peace force said Monday. Bosnian Serb Radio in Doboj said 20 people were injured. On Friday, Czech soldiers in northwest Bosnia opened fire over a crowd when residents of a Serb-held town blocked some 200 Muslim refugees trying to return to their homes. Fighting and ethnic purges during the 3½ years of war in Bosnia forced more than 2.5 million people to leave their homes. Half left the country and settled abroad.

Haselock said the NATO-led force will observe more closely future attempts by refugees to return home in order to be ready to deploy soldiers quickly if necessary. He also stressed that refugees’ attempts to cross former front lines should be organized by international aid agencies.

Additional resources
Apr 22 · Refugee Showdown near Doboj
Apr 20 · Violence Expected as Refugees Return Home
Apr 20 · In 9 of 10 Cases, Authorities Blocking Refugee Return

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