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Bosnia: Provinces To Debate Slowdown In Refugee Repatriation

Munich, 18 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - Senior officials from Germany's 16 provinces will hold an emergency conference in Munich this Friday to discuss a slowdown in the plans to repatriate refugees to Bosnia. Government officials say there are wide differences on the pace of repatriation, with some provinces arguing conditions in Bosnia remain unsatisfactory.

The Bavarian provincial government in Munich is one of those taking a hardline on the return of refugees, insisting that repatriation resume next month with the goal of returning tens of thousands of refugees by the end of the year.

It is supported by provincial governments in Berlin, Saxony and Baden-Wurrtemburg, which are governed by sister parties of the Federal Government in Bonn. Some other provincial government, mostly those governed by the Social Democrats, argue that the pace of repatriation should be governed by actual conditions in Bosnia.

Under German law, the 16 provincial governments have a wide degree of autonomy in deciding when the refugees in their province should be returned. Only a few thousand war refugees in Germany, which took in more refugees from Bosnia's war than any other country outside former Yugoslavia, have voluntarily returned home. The Federal government estimates that about 300,000 remain. According to present plans, the repatriation of about 80,000 single men and women and married couples without children should begin on April 1 -- or, in about two weeks. The compulsory repatriation of families is scheduled to begin in the summer.

The plans have been sharply criticised by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the refugee minister of the Bosnian-Croat federation, Rasim Kadic. They argue that there is insufficient housing and work in Bosnia for an influx of refugees from Germany and other countries. They also point out that Muslim refugees cannot be returned to their old homes in areas now occupied by the Serbs and must be found homes and jobs elsewhere. Most of the refugees in Germany are Muslim.

The High Commission for Refugees has also criticized Germany's decision to base repatriation on whether the refugees are married or have children. The High Commission said decisions should be based on the ethnic nationality of the refugee and the situation in the area where he or she is to be returned.

Doubts about a speedy pace of repatriation have also been expressed by a delegation from the German Federal parliament, which recently visited Bosnia. The German foreign office also issued a statement at the end of January warning that it was virtually impossible to repatriate Bosnians and Croats to the Republik Srpska.

Bavaria's interior minister Guenther Beckstein has said at least 20,000 of the 62,000 refugees in Bavaria should be sent back in the next few months. Beckstein has previously rejected the warnings of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and said it underestimated the capacity of Bosnia to absorb returning Muslims.

The Interior Minister in the city-province of Berlin, Joerg Schoenbohm, has also taken a hard line of the return of refugees. He said repatriation of the 29,000 in the city will begin next month. He said over the weekend that if enough do not leave voluntarily in the next few weeks, Barlin would deport more. Only about 1,200 of the Berlin refugees have returned home voluntarily.

The province of Saxony has also declared that it will begin returning about 1,800 refugees next month.

German officials favoring speedy repatriation argue that the refugees should return home to help rebuild their country. Germany also estimates that accomodating the refugees is costly. Officials have estimated that Bonn spends about half a billion marks a year on the refugees. The provinces also contribute to their upkeep.