Analysis 10 Dec 07

No Consensus on Srebrenica Aid Bid

Bosniaks and Serbs divided over plans to revive the war-shattered municipality.

By Nidzara Ahmetasevic in Sarajevo (Balkan Insight, 13 July 06)

Talks about giving the town of Srebrenica a special status may intensify this autumn, but there is little consensus on what form such an arrangement should take.

During the last two years various non-governmental organisations have been arguing that the town of Srebrenica , which suffered the biggest massacre in Europe since World War Two, should be granted extra economic help and more administrative autonomy in order to better tackle the legacy of the conflict in the area.

There has been very little support for the idea until the end of June when the international community's High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina , Christian Schwarz-Shilling, visited the eastern Bosnian town.

The initiative is focused mainly on introducing special measures which will encourage more people to return to the town and improve the local economy. But some people and organisations would like to see more drastic changes brought about.

On June 29, Schwarz-Shilling met local officials and citizens, and there was agreement that during the next few months Srebrenica, should be given some special treatment by the state.

"It is necessary that certain steps are that the problems here can be resolved," the High Representative was reported to have said following the meeting.

A subsequent press release issued by his office said that an action plan would be presented by August 1, setting out priority issues from now until 2010.

Late last year, a similar proposal was drafted by Srebrenica's mayor, Abdurahman Malkic, but it failed to get the necessary support from the Bosnian Serb representatives in the municipal government.

According to official statistics, Srebrenica has a population of around 10,000, made up of around 6,000 Serbs and 4,000 Bosniaks. Before the war, the population was 37,000, mostly Bosniaks.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says returns to the area only began in 2000, three years later than in other parts of Republika Srpska, RS.

This organisation's statistics show that about 4,069 Bosniaks came back to the municipality of Srebrenica in the last six years. And of 6,600 ruined homes only 1,820 have been rebuilt to date.

In the town itself, some areas still do not have electricity because the old power network, which was destroyed during the war, has not been replaced. And there's been little or no investment in reconstruction in neighbourhoods where returnees form the majority.

When Malkic says the main purpose of giving Srebrenica special status is to accelerate economic recovery, he emphasises development of area's natural resources - natural springs and zinc, bauxite and lead deposits - which in the past were the mainstay of he town's economy.

Local officials also point to the potential for hunting and fishing, fruit production, which is already underway, and organic food farming.

"I believe that special status will create better conditions for the exploitation of agriculture and also accelerate the return of refugees. The returns and economic recuperation of the region began here much later than in other parts of the country and that is why this is so important," Malkic told Balkan Insight.

He said the state should provide additional financial support and other assets to stimulate growth, reconstruction, returns and employment.

Malkic believes special status should also mean special care for the families of victims, victims themselves and returnees, with measures to address their housing and social problems and improve their chances of finding employment.

Last year's initiative also proposed that the municipality - rather than the entity government - manages and controls the area's natural resources and that Srebrenica be declared a tax free zone.

When the plans were first raised, they were rejected by a majority of Bosnian Serb deputies.

"This Bosniak initiative undermines the constitutional principles of RS. And that is only a part of the reason why I oppose any attempts to separate Srebrenica from RS," said local Bosnian Serb politician, Radomir Pavlovic.

"All of these problems could be solved by a development programme that would respect the interests of both Serb and Bosniak people. Creating new jobs would help us heal the wounds of war. Especially if there was some kind of monitoring by the international community."

Malkic told Balkan Insight that he was well aware of the fact that his idea was still unlikely to get support from local Serbs.

"They will oppose the idea. But it is important for us that the international community understands the need for a solution [to our problems]," he said.

Balkan Insight tried, but failed, to canvass the opinions of Bosnian Serb deputies in the town, as they were all on vacation.

It's not just Bosnian Serb politicians who are opposed to special status, some Bosniak citizens and victims organisations are not happy - but for a different reason. The latter do no like the idea of changing the status of the town merely to deal with returnees and economic issues.

Munira Subasic, president of the Association of Mothers of the Enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa, said that the main purpose of such an initiative should be to rectify the unjust treatment the region received both during the war and when the peace treaty was finally signed.

The Dayton peace agreement, which divided Bosnia and Herzegovina into two entities, the RS and the Federation, left Srebrenica under the control of the former.

"It is a shame that after our tragedy here, there is any Republika Srpska at all. But especially here where our dead are buried," said Subasic.

However, Subasic acknowledges that giving Srebrenica a special status would help those still living elsewhere to return to their pre-war homes, "The special status could facilitate our return. Everyone should have the right to die where they were born. This right is currently denied us."

Her association believes Srebrenica should either be organised like the district of Brcko with its own laws or that it should be under the jurisdiction of state institutions.

But state institutions which attended the June meeting with the High Representative also have a different understanding of the idea of special status.

After the meeting, representatives of the ministry for human rights and refugees spoke of the possibility of producing a draft law on areas that need to receive particular attention from the government.

According to some of those involved, this draft could be made public by the end of August. As well as Srebrenica, Drvar and the whole Podrinje region, may be included in the plan.

Ministry representative Saliha Dzuderija said any special status for Srebrenica would have the primary aim of trying to improve human rights in the town.

"We have a problem because we have not resolved the issue of the victims of war. The state must provide at least a minimal framework for their protection and reintegration into society. We are obliged to rehabilitate the area where so much unspeakable terror took place. What I have in mind is a special social status, not special territorial status," explained Dzuderija.

The victims and survivors who are yet to return to their pre-war homes fear the whole idea could become politicised.

"Srebrenica is like an orphan whom anyone can use to beg and collect points. Many people try to take advantage, both here and abroad," said Subasic.

Nidzara Ahmetasevic is a Balkan Insight correspondent and an editor with BIRN BiH's Justice Report publication. Balkan Insight and Justice Report are BIRN online publications.

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