By Alessandro Marzo Magno
Trieste, Italy Jan. 25 (RFE/RL) - About half of the ethnic-Croat refugees who fled the Krajina region of Croatia have now returned home. More than 120,000 Croats fled the region as it came under Croatian-Serb control in 1991.
Croat refugees left behind an estimated 32,000 homes - many so badly damaged as to be uninhabitable. But as Croatia's government forces regained control of Krajina during an offensive last summer, fleeing Croatian Serbs abandoned an estimated 140,000 homes.
Whole towns remain virtually abandoned after the Croatia government offensive. Among them are Knin, the former capital of the self-proclaimed Serb Republic of Krajina, and the key towns of Gracac and Korenica.
Zagreb has allocated about a million dollars to begin the restoration of housing in Krajina. Government contracts were issued quickly to construction companies, but work has been slowed by harsh weather conditions. There's even a program to promote child birth.
But that has not prevented Croatia's government from halting direct aid to Krajina refugees. Those who fled Krajina no longer enjoy official status as refugees, and no longer qualify for government aid. Many have sought refuge with friends and family.
On the other hand, Zagreb still regards as refugees about 50,000 people who fled Slavonia - the eastern Croatian region still under Croatian-Serb control. Refugee status is also afforded those who fled Posavina, the region of Bosnia around Brcko, which is assigned to Bosnian-Serb control under the Dayton accord map. This area had been predominantly ethnic Croat.
Refugees from the Posavina region are strongly opposed to the Dayton accord and have organized protests in Zagreb and Rijeka.
Other demonstrations have been organized by residents of the Prevlaka peninsula.
The peninsula is strategically important because it dominates the entry to the Boka Kotorska - home to the most important navy base of the Yugoslav Federation. The base is actually located on Montenegro territory.
According to the Dayton Accord, the Prevlaka peninsula will pass to Belgrade's control. In exchange, Croatia would gain a small amount of territory in the Dubrovnik area.
But residents of the Prevlaka area have prevailed upon Zagreb, and, in response, Croatia officials have said there will be no official recognition of the Belgrade government until the peninsula problem is resolved.
Many refugees remain in the Istria area of Croatia - about 6,000 from Bosnia. Another 5,000 refugees in Istria are internal refugees, mostly from the Vukovar region of Slavonia.
In Slovenia, an estimated 20,000 refugees from Bosnia remain. Only about 2,000 of these refugees have returned to bosnia since the signing of the peace accord in Paris.
Ljubjlana says it no longer has refugees from Croatia in Slovenia.
Croatia's government has started to speak of the "re-population of croatia." A month ago, Croatia's minister for reconstruction and development, Jure Radic, began to promote a program of accelerated birthrate. Saying that there were too few children in Croatia, Radic said it would be difficult to populate the land abandoned by Croatia Serbs.
Radic said Croatian couples should have no fewer than two children, and he proposed an incentive.The government has approved his recommendation that the state assume the home-loan payments of couples after a third child is born.