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News 18 May 16

Compensation Demand over Masked Belgrade Demolition

A company whose building in the Belgrade Waterfront complex area was demolished by unknown masked men told BIRN they will sue the state if they do not get compensation.

Sasa Dragojlo
BIRN
Belgrade
Demolished buildings on Hercegovacka Street in Belgrade. Photo: Facebook

The owners of the legally-registered company Iskra, whose building was one of several demolished by masked men in the state-backed Belgrade Waterfront complex area under cover of darkness last month, told BIRN they will sue the state if they are not paid adequate compensation.

The Iskra building was left in ruins after around 30 masked men armed with baseball bats and equipped with diggers tore down buildings on the riverbank and allegedly beat up local residents.

“I hope someone will call us for a meeting to see how we are going to solve this. If they continue to ignore the situation, we will not have any other options but to sue the state,” Vlada Miljevic, the director of Iskra, told BIRN.

“We did not buy Iskra to live and sleep there - we were doing business. The state acts like it is not our state at all,” Miljevic said.

The Serbian police, Belgrade’s major and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic have all denied having any knowledge about the demolitions.

But doubts about the city authorities' stance has been fuelled by the fact that the area affected forms part of the land that must be cleared for the construction of the Belgrade Waterfront project.

Iskra’s computers, furniture, documents and all the equipment in its warehouse were destroyed during the incident.

Part of Iskra’s demolished building on Herzegovacka Street had a valid a temporary license, part had a valid usage permit and the rest had a valid building permit, Miljevic said.

“No procedure of demolition has been initiated by the relevant authorities for any of these facilities,” he insisted.

According to the Belgrade Waterfront contract, the deadline to clear buildings on Herzegovacka Street to make way for the project is June 30, Serbian investigative website Insajder has reported.

Insajder suggested that the buildings could have been knocked down by the masked men to accelerate the process because legal disputes over proposed demolitions can last for years.

While Serbia's government sees the Belgrade Waterfront project as a major contribution to the capital's economic future, critics claim that the contract with Eagle Hills, a company based in the United Arab Emirates which is implementing the project, is unconstitutional because it has involved suspension of Serbian laws on the Waterfront's territory.

Many people living along the Sava river quayside also claim the development will only serve the wealthy.

A recent report by Serbia’s Ombudsman said police refused to respond to calls from people who witnessed the nocturnal demolitions.

Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic said in a report on May 10 that after examining police documents and listening to recordings of police telephone conversations during the incident, he concluded that the police were complicit in the demolitions.

“These omissions in the work of the police are not the result of individual mistakes, but were organised and implemented within the framework of a previously prepared plan,” Jankovic said in his report.

The authorities’ silence over the demolitions and the Ombudsman’s allegations have provoked protests in Belgrade.

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