June 9, 1997

Bosnian Croats accused of ``ethnic engineering''

By Dan De Luce

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Bosnian Croat authorities are systematically blocking the return of non-Croat refugees in towns adjacent to Croatia in clear violation of a 1995 peace agreement, an international watchdog agency reported Monday.

Croat authorities orchestrated the torching of 25 homes in the town of Drvar last month as part of a campaign to discourage Serbs from moving back to the area, said the International Crisis Group (ICG), a private agency monitoring Bosnia's peace treaty.

Croat, Serb and Muslim authorities alike have contrived to block the return of war refugees not belonging to the majority group in areas they control, but Western monitors say almost all the abuses occur on Serb- and Croat-held territory.

Before the war, Drvar had a predominantly Serb population which fled after Croat forces captured the area at the close of Bosnia's conflict in 1995.

Drvar authorities have since encouraged Croats from towns in Serb or Muslim-held areas to move to the municipality, including some 2,000 soldiers serving in the Bosnian Croat militia.

The report blamed local officials from the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the police and Croat militia for organizing the campaign of intimidation against Serb refugees.

Franjo Tudjman, president of neighboring Croatia and head of the HDZ, has long been accused of seeking to carve out ``ethnically pure'' territory along the border through his political proteges.