Bonn, 3 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel has declared 1998 to be the "year of the return of the Bosnian refugees" and said thousands will be under pressure to return home in the next few months.
Kinkel's comments to journalists in Bonn were made in advance of tomorrow's visit by the new prime minister of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik. Refugee policies, including the return of Muslims to areas where Serbs are in the majority, is high on the agenda of the meeting.
Kinkel said other issues include the arrest of accused war criminals who until now have found a haven in the Republika Srpska and particularly the detention of the former Bosnian-Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.
Kinkel has on several occasions expressed Bonn's expectations that the election of Dodik will be a "turning point for the better" in Bosnia. Earlier this week he said that "for the first time there is a government in the Serbian part of Bosnia which is fully committed to the Dayton peace agreement."
Germany's hope is that Dodik will make it possible for Muslim minorities to return to their old homes and villages in areas where Serbs are in the majority. Kinkel made clear that in return, Germany will put pressure on Croatia's president Tudjman to allow Serb refugees living in the Republika Srpska to return to their homes in Croatia. He also indicated that Bonn may be willing to provide financial assistance to the Republika Srpska and help persuade the European Union to release blocked funds.
According to Kinkel, only about 100,000 of the around 400,000 refugees who came to Germany have returned home. He said 60 percent of those still in Germany come from the Republika Srpska. They argue they are afraid to return because they expect a hostile reception from the Serbs. Kinkel acknowledged that there have indeed been many incidents of obstruction, hostility and violence against returning refugees, not only in the Republika Srpska but also in the Bosnian Federation.
But Kinkel said that since 1991 the Federal and provincial governments had provided around 17,000 million marks for the care and accommodation of the refugees and the time had come to end the economic burden.
Kinkel's views are generally supported by the governments of the 16 German provinces, which individually have responsibility for the Bosnian refugees on their territory. The governments of Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemburg have promised an intensive drive in the spring to persuade refugees to return home and warned that some will be forced to go if they don't leave voluntarily.
The Bavarian interior minister Guenther Beckstein has indicated this may include Bosnian nurses working in hospitals in Munich although the hospital authorities have protested that the nurses are needed.
Officials at the German foreign office in Bonn said Kinkel's comments reflect a general view within the European union that the time had come for pressure to be applied to both the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian federation to create conditions allowing minorities to return home. United Nations statistics show that less than nine per cent of the 400,000 refugees who have returned home since 1995 are minorities in their own community. That is around 36,000 people. Much the same figures were given last week at a meeting of the parliamentary assembly of the European Union.
According to the U.N., both the Republika Srpska and the Federation enacted laws and regulations deliberately designed to obstruct the return of minority refugees to their prewar homes. The Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly said last week that while the situation was worst in the Republika Srpska, there were also numerous instances in the federation of municipal and cantonal authorities obstructing the return of minorities.
The U.N. High Commissioner for refugees, Sadako Ogata, has said she hopes this year to organize 40 so-called "open cities" in Bosnia which welcome back refugees whatever their status. Her immediate goal is to create an "open city" in Banja Luka, which Dodik has just named the new capitals of the Republika Srpska. Another city at the top of her list is Sarajevo which has a bad record for placing obstacles in the way of Serbs who wish to return to the city.