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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

    MON, 17 FEB 1997 22:58:55 GMT

    Are We Going to Face "Case of Zepce"?

    THE MARGINAL STORY FROM CENTRAL BOSNIA

    AIM Zepce, 5 February, 1997

    To speak about Zepce might not seem at the moment as a well enough founded basis for an authentic and exclusive story. The reason for this is simple - Zepce is in no way special. Just one of the numerous towns affected by the same destiny - the conflict between the Bosnian Croats and the Bosniacs, and by the division between 'our' and 'their' part of the town.

    Zepce is located at the very centre of Bosnia, but on the margins of political activities. For the sake of information, this town is first mentioned in 1458 (according to certain data before many larger B&H towns). In that year, the last but one Bosnian king Stjepan Tomas issued a charter to chief administrator (logothete) Stjepan Ratkovic in the town - castle of Zepce. There are data that at the time, a primitive post service operated between Sarajevo and Brod with stations in only four towns, among other in Zepce. In its history, the town was the scene of many battles and burnt down to the ground on several occasions.

    Modern history, however, registers some other names which Zepce is mentioned for: 'prominent' citizens of Zepce are, for instance, writer from the Party of Democratic Action, Nedzad Ibrisimovic, Irfan Ajanovic, also member of the SDA, then there are Ivo Lozancic and Perica Jukic, who are in charge of personnel of the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ)...

    Nevertheless, before the war, everything that could be said about Zepce was that it was a typical Bosnian backwater and a provincial town. Reasons why Zepce, although with historical predisposition for it, did not become a city or at least a big town should be sought in the quasi-urban approach to development of the former socialist regime. The town, in fact, did not give too many partisans during the Second World War, so its development was probably limited for political reasons. The biggest, in fact, one of the two factories in Zepce at the time was Mahnjaca, which strangely became the greatest former Yugoslav manufacturer of personal and other protective equipment. People lived in peace with little money and few worries, but with a lot of cheques and plenty of unavoidable and recognizable charm of a small Bosnian town.

    Straining of relations between the Bosniacs and the Croats from the beginning of the war for a long time had no influence on this town. The stakes in a possible conflict were too high, not so much because of Zepce itself, but because of its important strategic geographical position. The conflict would have reflected on the destiny of neighbouring municipalities as well. Possible fall into the hands of the Croat Defence Council (HVO) would have been a threat to defence of the regional centre - Zenica, and would have left Maglaj and Tesanj completely surrounded.

    But, with the already known tensions between the leaders of the SDA and the HDZ, unfortunately, the conflicts were not long in coming. Conflicts began in the end of June 1993 and in just the first seven days, a large part of the town was set on fire and destroyed. Killings, detention camps, hunger and other scenes of Bosnian horror became reality of Zepce. In those days Zepce came to the forcus of information programs in Bosnian media, but after the end of the conflicts, almost an inpenetrable media curtain was dropped on it.

    Fortunately, the Bosniac-Croat war nightmare was interrupted in 1994 by the American dictate called the Washington agreement, or rather B&H Federation. When a joint police point of the Public Security Service Zepce and police station were established in the town, it was welcomed with great enthusiasm, but not for long, because interruption of war activities does not bring about re-establishment of confidence between two nations. The joint police point soon began to separate them, because it is possible to cross it only with appropriate certificates, and there has been no return of refugees.

    Only one thing has happened since proclamation of the Federation until this day - the police points were removed, but everythiong else is unchanged. Zepce as majority of towns in the Federation, lives a parallel life with two separate parts: the one controlled by the HDZ in its urban core, and the other controlled by Bosnian authorities which takes up about fifty per cent of the territory of Zepce municipality outside the downtown. Of course, each of the separate parts of the town has its own public services and its own administration. Besides, this part of Bosnia is probably one of the rare ones where there are more refugees than the domicile population.

    Great urban destruction which happened in Zepce classify this town in the category of those which have suffered the greatest damage of all. Data on demolished, damaged or completely destroyed buildings in Zepce speak for themselves: in the category of economic and other facilities the sad first place was taken by the factory of furniture - Namjestaj II, property of the Krivaja Zavidovici complex, which was completely destroyed. Similar is the case with the secondary school in Zepce, business premises and prefabricated buildings in the Youth settlement on the area of 1100 square metres. Cultural and sacral buildings were especially affected: out of four mosques, three were completely destroyed and the fourth is 70 per cent destroyed. In the village of Vitlaci, the mosque was set on fire and the memorial was damaged, and in Ozimica the memorial and religious buildings were burnt to the ground. As concerning housing facilities, 600 thousand square metres of housing units were damaged between 0 and 15 per cent. About 120 thousand square metres of housing units suffered damage of over 60 per cent, which amounts to the total figure of 720 thousand square metres of housing area which was either damaged or destroyed. This amounts to 26.6 per cent of the total housing fund.

    The security situation in Zepce is one of the greatest problems. The seven-month period after Dayton was especially 'interesting' which is best described by sad facts about it: in the first seven monts there were seven murders in Zepce, six physical abuses including rape and twenty houses were set on fire. Although such incidents are fortunately not frequent any more, the remaining Bosniacs in the town of Zepce live in insecurity, the Croats live in uncertainty, and the refugees are, of course, not returning yet.

    The federal 'balance' between the SDA and the HDZ could unexpectedly experience a change in Zepce, because people of Zepce who have fled from here are losing patience and increasingly refer to the case of Jusici and threaten with the manner of return applied by the people of Jusici, that is with the blockade of the main road which divides this town as the ultimate possibility.

    Samir SPAHIC