No place is home for Bosnia's refugee voters

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BLAGENA KUZIC has enough problems without worrying about how to vote in Bosnia's national and local elections this weekend. Her Muslim husband was a victim of the war and she struggles to support their eight- year-old daughter. Not having a permanent home complicates her task.

The family used to live in this once-picturesque town in the south-west of Bosnia, scene of some of the war's heaviest fighting. But Mrs Kuzic, 27, is an ethnic Serb and when her husband was killed, she was driven out. As the conflict continued, she headed for Republika Srpska, the Serb- held part of the country. But because she had been married to a Muslim, she was shunned there too. "The Serbs treat us as if we were Muslims," she said. "The Muslims despise us as Serbs. Nobody wants us."

For many months Mrs Kuzic has been trying to move back to Mostar, now in the Muslim-Croat Federation, where she at least has a house. Last week she travelled 125 miles on a United Nations bus to pick up an application form for moving back. It is the second form she has filled out; the first was lost.

Outside the town hall, in the scorching late summer sun, the widow explained why she had no time for politics. "I don't trust anybody. With all my heart I wish for a united Yugoslavia again, but nobody is offering me that."

Mrs Kuzic's uncertain existence is far from unique. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 1.8 million people are still displaced, three years after the Dayton peace agreement ended the fighting. Most would find themselves in an ethnic minority if they returned to their homes.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is running the elections, is trying to get as many refugees as possible to vote. It estimates more than a third of the electorate have been displaced from where they lived before the war and still need help to resettle. While the UN has declared this year the Year of Refugee Return, progress has been slow. And many of those seeking re-election are responsible for the chaos.

Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's three-way presidency, promised in June to allow 20,000 refugees to return to Sarajevo by the end of the year. So far, just 800 have done so, but Mr Izetbegovic, who heads a Muslim nationalist coalition, is still likely to get back into office. Meanwhile, Ante Jelavic, who is supported by Franjo Tudjman's government in Zagreb, has the greatest chance of becoming the Croat member of the presidency.

The closest election could come in Bosnia's other entity, Republika Srpska, where resettling refugees has been particularly hard. The incumbent is Momcilo Krajisnik, a hard-line nationalist known for his links to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. The West would like to see him beaten by a candidate from the more moderate Sloga coalition.

But in Mostar, Mrs Kuzic has another problem of considerably more relevance to her immediate future. When she last visited her house two years ago, it was empty. On her return last week, she found it full of people - a Muslim refugee family expelled from their home by Croat fighters.

The grandmother, Senada Koso, welcomed Mrs Kuzic, and the two sat drinking coffee in a room darkened by a boarded-up window. Since it was blown out in the war there has been no money to repair it, or in the case of Mrs Koso and her family, no point.

Each woman understood the other's plight but Mrs Koso, unlike her visitor, said she would be voting, probably for the Muslim coalition. She hopes they will help her move home. If that happens, then Mrs Kuzic might be able to return to hers. But democracy has not helped either of them so far. Mrs Koso remains confident, while Mrs Kuzic has already seen enough.