A Bosnian Peace Dividend Eludes Cash-Strapped Germany
BONN — Despite efforts to trim their budgets, Germany's states are nonetheless likely to keep shouldering the costs for their masses of Bosnian refugees.
Although state interior ministers are holding to their July 1 target date for repatriating the 320,000 refugees here, they also have left a loophole: They said last week that federal Interior Minister Manfred Kanther should determine just when the actual return will be feasible.
Federal and state officials acknowledge that civilian freedom of movement is not yet a reality in Bosnia. And despite the July 1 date, they added the caveat that repatriation could occur only once it was clear that refugees could return to their homes safely.
Yet these state officials remain focused on getting as many of the refugees in Germany back to Bosnia as soon as possible and express concern about the strain on local finances that the refugees represent: The states have spent some $10 billion on welfare payments to the refugees.
Even if the July 1 date is not met, it still could affect German foreign policy by pressuring the foreign ministry to speed reconstruction efforts in Bosnia. Germany has taken in more Bosnian refugees than has any other country and has long been leader in the search for peace in Bosnia.
The state interior ministers, who along with Mr. Kanther share responsibility for issues of refugee status, made their decisions at their regular semiannual meeting in Bonn May 2 and 3. Before the meeting, leaders from across the political spectrum called for a postponement of the target date, as did the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Meanwhile, human rights groups, notably the Society for Threatened Peoples (GfBV are its German initials), based in Gottingen, continue to campaign against the interior ministers' tight timetable.
During the ministers' meeting, they set up a symbolic "refugee camp" near the German Bundestag, or lower house of parliament. At a press conference, they introduced Izeta Mustafic, from the ethnically cleansed town of Mordrica. Now settled near her children in Gottingen, this great-grandmother is officially "required to leave German territory," though she can negotiate for an extension. "Why should I be deported?" she asked. "They've destroyed my house. I have five children here."
Over the weekend of April 26-28, GfBV led a group of 40 Bosnian Muslim refugees and long-term residents of Germany back to Bosnia to try to visit their former homes in Prijedor.
Because of Bosnian Serb protests, including the threat of violence, they did not, however, make it across the 2 1/2-mile-wide "inter-entity boundary line" between Bosnian Serb-controlled territory and the Muslim-Croat territory. This outcome was "not unexpected," said GfBV chairman Tilman Zulch.
Crowds of Serbs had massed on the Serb side of the line, ready to attack the visitors with rocks and bottles. About a mile from the edge of the line, IFOR troops told the refugees they could not go any farther and they turned back.
GfBV complained that although the Dayton accord calls for freedom of movement, "the British and Canadian units [in Prijedor] did not come to the aid of the visitors."
GfBV added that the British soldiers took no action to arrest Slobodan Kurosohic, a concentration camp commander whom one of the refugees identified. IFOR spokesman Maj. Peter Bullock in Sarajevo countered that Mr. Kurosohic has not been indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.