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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    FRI, 02 FEB 1996 22:44:05 GMT

    Baranja awaiting international transition administration


    How local Serb authorities in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem plan to reinforce the Serb ethnic group in this portion of former Yugoslavia

    AIM Belgrade, January 24, 1996

    In mid January, refugee family of Nikola M. ended its five-month search for a new home in Baranja. That is how this family celebrated its family patron day, St. John's Day "under its own roof", in a house left by a Hungarian family, assigned to it for temporary use by the Secretariat for Housing and Public Services of Beli Manastir municipality. Nikola does not consider himself a refugee any more! He is now a "citizen of Srem-Baranja region", one of the 407 persons of Serb nationality who moved into the area of Baranja in the first three weeks of 1996.

    - I don't care any more who will be in power here. I am fed up with both Kosovo and Vojvodina. I reach Bezdan; they tell me over there, cross the Danube, go to Batina, there are your people, from Krajina, over there, we see them passing here every day, they are invited to go to Baranja. Allegedly, there are empty houses over there, for you, the refugees...

    I obeyed, and here I am - Nikola says, showing what the former tenant, the owner of the house and the estate had "left" him - cattle, agricultural machinery, furniture, everything... Who, where and when the owner of this house had gone, Nikola does not even want to know, because "we lawfully received a decision in writing, we did not chase anyone away, I have a clear conscience"!

    At the Committee of the Commissariat for Refugees in Beli Manastir, we learn from Dusko Jerinic, the person in charge, that the minucipal Executive Council recently reached a decision to colonize the region of Baranja with five thousand people, mostly refugees from Krajina, who had not resolved their accomodation problem in Serbia. There are already 14,500 Serb refugees already living in Baranja, out of which about one third are the Serbs banished last year from Western Slavonija and Krajina.

    - We have decided to reopen the reception centre in Batina in the next few days, where the newcoming refugees would spend some time, as much as needed for a certain number of housing facilities to be rendered usable for living. Accomodation is available in all 46 settlements in Baranja - Dusko Jerinic says and adds that contacts have already been established with representatives of Northern Backa municipalities (Sombor, Apatin, Odzaci, Kula) which will help repair damaged houses, and in return they will relieve their part of the country of the burden of refugees.

    To the question how and what the new inhabitants of Baranja would live off, Mr Jerinic gives the answer that this too was taken into account, since humanitarian aid is becoming more scarce every day. Last year, for instance, 200 tons of humanitarian aid arrived in Baranja, and just a year before that, when the number of refugees was half smaller, the aid weighed 500 tons.

    - There will be jobs for the entire working age population, mostly in agriculture and forestry, but in our enterprises as well, and the private sector, so we believe that there will be no problems for the existence of the new inhabitants - Mr Jerinic is convinced.

    Colonization of Baranja is a part of a comprehensive project of colonizing the entire Srem-Baranja region, which is expected to bring 30 thousand Serbs to this area by the end of the year.

    Representatives of local Serb authorities are using the media to repeatedly invite the refugees from Serbia to come to Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem. The head of the Serb negotiating team, Milan Milanovic, and President of the Council of Srem-Baranja region, Slavko Dokmanovic, sends word to the newly arrived refugees and those who still have doubts whether they will ensure their future at least for some time by coming to Slavonia and Baranja, by saying that "no Croat will return to this region before destiny of Serb refugees who live here is resolved".

    Vaso Zigic, Vice-President of the Council of Srem-Baranja region and the President of Beli Manastir municipality, claims that this operation has nothing to do with politics.

    - The program of colonization is in compliance with Item 7 of Erdut Agreement pursuant to which all refugees who have found homes here have a right to continue to live here - Zigic says and adds that the operation is primarily humanitarian, and as concerning its political connotations, - I would not like to talk about it this time...

    According to his opinion, colonization will continue regardless of operation of the international transition administration.

    - All our agencies will continue operation. We do not represent, as often stated, just the local Serbs. Along with them, about 70 thousand refugees live here, Serbs from Croatia, but there are also Hungarians, Croats and other ethnic communities. Very serious work is ahead of us, cooperation with international administration and a period of time in which we must show that we are capable to organize life in new conditions - Vaso Zigic stresses.

    - These people act as if they were crazy. They are uninformed and act as if nothing is happening. Our political top echelons, instead of explaining to the people that this space was definitely returned into the constitutional legal system of Croatia, still feed the illusions that nothing has been lost yet, that we will get an autonomy, that we will unite with Serbia, and even extend further, and such nonsense. Please, just imagine, they are inviting people to come live here, they keep promising them all kinds of things, and I've just been informed that an order to ban attempts to take property out of the region has been issued. What do I wish to say? They know that the people are terrified and ready to leave this region before Croat rule is established. And so they ban departure, probably in agreement with the authorities from Belgrade? They have already provided housing for themselves in Serbia, while here, like parrots, they keep repeating that they will stay with the people, that our Serb authorities will continue operation. Yes, I know they will, but only during the transition period and while they can still make some more money in hard currency... I just feel sorry for these people from Krajina who believe all these appeals and bragging of theirs, because quite certainly, they have a new exodus in line for them - says Milan P., a native of Baranja, a district clerk who does not forecast peaceful dreams for Serb inhabitants of Baranja.

    Beli Manastir otherwise in no way shows evidence that it is getting ready for international protectorate. Streets are crowded with armed Serbs in uniforms, noone is mentioning demobilization, and arms are still close to demarcation lines. In its news programs, local radio station informs citizens more about the situation in Republic of Srpska and the Federation of B&H than about implementation of Security Council Resolution 1037. Ears of Baranja Serbs have not got accustomed to the name of Jacques Klein, UN head administrator of Eastern Slavonia, let alone to his arrival.

    Who is he - they will answer puzzled, claiming that they were not joking, that they really did not know who could that be.

    On the road leading to Batina from Beli Manastir, militia patrols are deployed at a distance of ten kilometres. Members of former UNPROFOR, then former UNCRO, and future UNTAES, do not move around the area if not absolutely necessary. Arrival of new peace forces is expected, reinforcements to form the planned contingent of 5,000 soldiers and policemen who will keep peace during transition administration.

    On the long Batina bridge across the Danube (Bridge of the 51th Division), you will first be checked and seen off by the "militia of the Republic of Serb Krajina" which was recently renamed into militia of Srem-Baranja region. A little further away, at the end of the bridge, you will be welcomed by militia of Serbia, which, perhaps due to bitter January cold or to the routine which has become tiring, does not take too long to check your papers, nor does it peep into your trunk too often. For the time being, at least!

    (AIM) Milka Ljubicic