ICG Press Release

Hrair Balian (100034.2220@compuserve.com)
Wed, 29 Apr 1998 12:40:09 -0400


PRESS RELEASE

Immediate Measures Urged in Response to the Drvar Violence

29 April 1998

The past ten days have seen a resurgence of violence in Bosnia directed
against ethnic minorities attempting to return to their pre-war homes. The
most serious of these incidents took place in the western town of Drvar
under the control of the Croat Defence Forces (HVO), targeting a group of
Serb returnees who have worked closely with the international community and
have become a model for other moderate displaced persons movements across
the country.

The violence in Drvar began in the early afternoon of Friday 24 April. A
crowd gathered in the town centre and attacked the municipal building, an
apartment block with recent Serb returnees (vacated a few days earlier by
the HVO), the International Police Task Force (IPTF) station, and other
international offices. Two local police officers stood by as the crowd
attacked the elected Drvar Mayor and leader of displaced Serbs, Mile
Marceta, in his office. Wounded, Marceta sought refuge in the IPTF
station. He was dragged out, beaten further and left for dead; only
helicopter evacuation to a Stabilisation Force (SFOR) hospital saved his
life. During the first hour of the riot, international monitors reported
seeing the recently dismissed Deputy Mayor and local Hrvatska demokratska
zajednica (HDZ) leader, Drago Tokmakcija, and several off-duty police
officers in the crowd, which was composed mainly of military-age men. SFOR
filmed the incident and monitors asserted that many of the rioters were
from out of town. Following the incidents, approximately 150 recent Serb
returnees left Drvar for Banja Luka. Throughout the weekend, organised
Croat bands, some communicating with hand-held radios, threatened other
Serb returnees in outlying villages.

The violence came after a tense week in Drvar. Following the murder of two
elderly Serb returnees in Drvar on 16 April, the Office of the High
Representative (OHR) and the IPTF dismissed the Croat Deputy Mayor of
Drvar, the local Chief of Police and the Cantonal Interior Minister. SFOR
and IPTF, particularly concerned about unrest at the funeral of the
victims, beefed up their security presence. When the anticipated problems
did not materialise, however, security in Drvar was relaxed. SFOR ended
low-level helicopter flights over the city that had been initiated after
the murders, and reinforcements that had been brought in withdrew on Friday
morning. Yet the signs of ongoing extremist activity in Drvar were
evident. International monitors reported the presence of a number of
unfamiliar vehicles from hard-line Croat areas such as West Mostar and
Kiseljak, as well as several vehicles cruising the town without license
plates. Shop-owners told monitors on Friday morning that they would be
closed because of a "big event".

The fingerprints of the HDZ leadership are all over the events in Drvar.
In addition, the proximity of HVO forces and the accounts given by
eyewitnesses strongly suggest HVO complicity. This, combined with the
organised nature of the riots and the participation of agents from
hard-line HDZ territory, is strong evidence that the incidents were
approved by HDZ. The 24 April violence was the logical extension of
consistent obstruction of multiethnic policing by cantonal authorities
under HDZ control, and a persistent terror campaign in Drvar, including the
recent murders and the torching of over 50 homes and barns..

If those responsible for the violence in Drvar continue to enjoy impunity,
surely they will draw the conclusion that they can repeat their actions
elsewhere, the prospects for future minority returns will be endangered,
and with it, hopes for a lasting peace will vanish. Already, there are
foreboding signs of a similar situation developing in Stolac. During the
last month alone, more than 30 houses of potential minority returnees to
the area have been destroyed with explosives.

Violence against minority returnees must be viewed within the context of a
grave breach of obligations set forth in Annex 1A of the DPA, indeed a
failure of Bosnian authorities to "provide a safe and secure environment
for all persons in their respective jurisdiction." The international
community must take urgent and robust action to stop the cycle of such
breaches. Otherwise, the "year of minority returns" risks degenerating
rapidly into a year of violence with grave consequences to the peace
process. With its "primary mission ... to contribute to a secure
environment necessary for the consolidation of peace" and with "primary
tasks" that include the obligation "to deter or prevent a resumption of
hostilities or new threats to peace", SFOR must assume significant
responsibility for the prevention of further violence.

ICG urges the following immediate measures:

OHR must establish a senior-level presence in Drvar for a minimum period
of three months and for as long as Mayor Marceta is prevented from taking
effective control of his office;
SFOR checkpoints must be set up to control access to the Drvar
municipality as well as Drvar town and vehicles entering the area must be
searched for weapons;
SFOR must confine all HVO soldiers in the area to their barracks and
order their removal from the town as well as a periphery of at least 10 km
within two weeks;
IPTF must decertify police officers who took part in the mob violence;
IPTF must redouble efforts to reintegrate Serb officers in the local
police force, but only after a secure environment in the area has been
established; and
the HDZ leadership must be declared persona non grata in the municipality
until (1) those responsible for the mob violence have been arrested by the
police, (2) the cantonal authorities have made a credible effort to
prosecute those individuals, and (3) "Radio Drvar" assumes a constructive
role in calming the situation in the municipality.

Moreover, the US and the European Union must initiate a concerted and
credible effort, not just another warning, to isolate the leadership of
Croatia for the continuing support provided to the hard-line Bosnian HDZ.
In this context, the international community must take into consideration
inflammatory and seriously distorted television broadcasts from Zagreb
which frequently appeal to hard-line Bosnian Croats.

For further information, please contact ICG in Sarajevo at (387 71) 447
845, 447 846 or 200 447, Brussels at 322-502-9038, or Washington at
202-986-9750. Copies of ICG reports may be accessed through the Internet
at http://www.intl-crisis-group.org.