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High Commissioner in the Balkans

Briefing notes

High Commissioner in the Balkans

8 June 2001

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers is now in the fourth day of a five-day mission to the Balkans, where more than 1 million people remain displaced from the conflicts of the 1990s. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia), Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Lubbers has been heartened by the determination expressed by a new generation of government officials to find solutions for the refugees and displaced.

Five and a half years after the Dayton Agreement, the pace of returns to some areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina is really beginning to accelerate. In the past 18 months, nearly 90,000 minority returns have been registered in Bosnia, and the pace continues to increase. In the first five months of this year, for example, nearly 22,000 minority returns took place - twice the figure for the same period a year ago. Mr. Lubbers said each and every one of these individual returnees is an investment in the future of the troubled region and deserves as much support as possible.

Nearly all of the returnees are in urgent need of reconstruction assistance. Many are living in tents and other makeshift shelters next to their destroyed and damaged homes and need help to rebuild. Funds are needed now for the construction of some 15,000 houses. With the large numbers now returning, we fear many will face real hardship this winter - or perhaps again abandon their homes - if they cannot get help on time. Their success or failure will have a major influence on thousands of others still considering return. Mr. Lubbers said he would take this message to donors.

Despite these encouraging signs of return in some areas, obstacles remain in others - much of it related to bureaucratic foot-dragging and the failure to implement property laws returning homes to their rightful owners. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, some 190,000 houses are still to be returned to their pre-war owners.

While in Belgrade, the High Commissioner noted recent re-registration figures that showed some 60 percent of the 390,000 refugees in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia wanted to stay there. He welcomed the Belgrade government's official promotion of local integration for refugees and urged the international community to support reconstruction and development programmes that will allow them to rebuild their lives. Local integration will be pursued in parallel with continuing efforts to promote repatriation for those who still wish to go home.

This afternoon, Mr. Lubbers is scheduled to fly from Sarajevo to Pristina, Kosovo, and then on to Skopje, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. On Saturday, he will visit southern Serbia.