Koprivna, Bosnia; 11 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - The largely Serbian village of Koprivna straddles the road between towns of Prijedor in Republika Srpska and Sanski Most in the Muslim/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Most of Koprivna is on the federation side of the inter-entity boundary line. But most of Koprivna's inhabitants are displaced on the Republika Srpska side, waiting for the day when they will be able to return safely to their homes.
The two sides are separated by a demilitarized zone that stretches two kilometers on either side of the boundary line. Residents of the two entities can travel freely into the zone and cross the boundary line without difficulty.
But it is only within this demilitarized zone that Serbs, Muslims and Croats can meet in relative safety. And it is there that picnics along the roadside just a few steps from an IFOR tank are commonplace, with cars bearing Republika Srpska and Bosnian federation license plates parked side by side.Travel any further would be inviting trouble.
Local police rarely man roadblocks on either side of the boundary. But fear of a chance encounter with police or former neighbors is enough to scare most displaced people from journeying beyond the boundary zone into the other side's territory.
A Muslim truck driver, originally from Prijedor but now residing in Sanski Most, says he comes to the Koprivna crossing to see his friends and relatives. The demilitarized zone, he says, has become a place where people can have normal conversations.
He says he hopes to be able to return home to Sanski Most some day, adding that the only solution for Bosnia is coexistence, with all nationalities allowed to return to their homes and live together. Nothing can be solved, he insists, as long as refugees and displaced persons are unable to return home. And as long as people continue to be barred from returning to their homes and jobs, he says, one can not speak about freedom of movement.
A few steps away, a Serbian doctor from Sanski Most who now resides in Banja Luka, shares a picnic with his father and his father's Muslim wife. They both live in Muslim-administered Sanski Most.
Ideally, the doctor says, he would like to move back to Sanski Most, but he concedes that for now that is impossible. He says that Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into three parts and is going to stay that way.
"Statements about Serbs, Muslims and Croats living together in a single state are nothing but demagogy," he says. He expects the ruling national parties to win Saturday's elections and merely confirm the status quo.
Before fighting erupted four years ago, nearly 200 families lived in Koprivna. Now most of the homes in the village are empty. The surrounding fields lie fallow. Nine months after the Dayton Agreement took effect, Koprivna remains depopulated, its houses without electricity and running water. There is no school, let alone children. The village store and the post office are boarded up.
But Jovan Trekulja, a Serb returnee, predicts the outlook for village and the fertile Sana river valley is great, provided that everyone is allowed to return regardless of ethnicity. He says about 15 Serb families are currently living in Koprivna. But the majority of former Serb residents remain displaced in Republika Srpska waiting for the situation to normalize.
Trekulja says he and his wife, both pensioners, have not had any serious problems since returning early this year. He admits that some other Serb residents have experienced what he terms minor provocations by the Muslim side.
"Everyone is waiting for the outcome of the elections and the eventual resolution of Koprivna's fate," Trekulja says. "Everyone would like to be back in their own homes."
He intends to vote for whichever party can ensure that everyone will be able to return regardless of ethnicity.
In his horse-drawn wagon, Jovan Zuri heads back across the boundary line to Republika Srpska after spending a day harvesting potatoes on his plot in Koprivna. His wife follows behind on a bicycle. For the Zuris, the situation has not yet stabilized sufficiently to allow them to move back to Koprivna for good.
In Ostra Luka, the first village entirely on the Bosnian Serb side of the boundary line, Mika Davidovic, chairman of the "Committee of the Serb Community of Sanski Most," terms the area north of the boundary in Republika Srpska the "free part of Sanski Most."
About 1,000 Serbs who fled to Republika Srpska from the Muslim side of the boundary still feel unable to return to their homes in Sanski Most, Koprivna and other communities.
Davidovic says that the part of Koprivna assigned to Sanski Most is very thinly populated and only a small part of the population wants to live there. He also says that plans are being drawn up for a more substantial return of former residents. But they will not return, he says, unless given guarantees of full security.
Davidovic's committee, assisted by IFOR, has had some contact with the municipal authorities in Sanski Most in a bid to retrieve school and employment records. But Davidovic says that the Muslim side has been reticent to discuss these issues. He says that the only thing the Sanski Most authorities wanted to talk about was the way of returning Muslim refugees to the Serb side of the boundary.
Davidovic says he expects the elections to pass off peacefully in Koprivna and elsewhere on the Serb side of the boundary. But he also said that he has asked IFOR to ensure security in the area on election day.
"The most important thing is to make sure that no incidents occur," Davidovic says.
Local Bosnian Serb officials expect a wave of Muslims to cross the inter-entity boundary line to vote. He says Muslim voters from the federation will be allowed to travel through Koprivna and Ostra Luka to vote in Prijedor.
But this could create problems, he says. Even minor incidents, he warns, could have undesired results.
"Anything could happen," he says. "Preventive measures" are planned to ensure what he terms "the highest possible level of security." He says that one should "leave nothing to chance."
Davidovic says he expects that Koprivna will eventually be returned in its entirety to Republika Srpska as part of an exchange of territory with the Federation. Only then, he says, will normal life be restored to the community.