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Crowd trouble in Bosnia

Banja Luka (Reuter) - Rival factions in Bosnia are encouraging dangerous confrontations in which crowds of refugees try to cross truce lines to reach their former homes, UN workers and Nato officers said yesterday.

Both Serb and Muslim-Croat power-brokers were promoting incidents involving embittered civilians for their own political ends, Nato officers said, despite a serious risk the events could turn bloody.

Peacekeeping soldiers fired into the air and deployed troops between angry crowds at Doboj on Sunday in the latest incident in which refugees have massed at post-war boundary lines between Serb territory and the Moslem-Croat federation. "This is how the war started - people marching and setting up barricades." a Danish officer in the Nato-led I-For force said.

Nato officials in Sarajevo warned the primary responsibility for dealing with such confrontations lies with local civil authorities. "We clearly understand and support the right of individuals to return to their pre- war homes and to visit family graves," a Nato spokesman, Major Simon Haselock, said."[But] we are concerned by what seems to be a cynical attempt to manipulate the legitimate concerns of people about their property and homesteads for narrow, local ends. We are not going to become a rent- a-crowd-control organisation."

In most of the demonstrations, Bosnian Muslim authorities - including police in civilian clothes - have led refugees towards towns from which they were expelled in the war. Serb authorities have replied by organising protests stopping Muslim refugees entering Serb territory, say relief workers.

The confrontations give Bosian Serb leaders an excuse to strengthen police powers and rally support against a "common enemy".

Leaders of the Muslim-Croat federation are promoting the demonstrations citing the Dayton peace agreement which guarantees repatriation and freedom of movement across Bosnia. However, international relief workers say the ruling Party of Democratic Action is keen to stage the marches because they also drum up support among refugees angered by the loss of homes.