Muslim refugees mass on Croatia's border

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of Muslim refugees, trapped among minefields on the border of the Serb-held Krajina region in Croatia, ignored appeals by the United Nations to return home and marched to a UN check-point to demand safe passage through Croatia.

Aid workers, who are worried about the plight of 25,000 refugees from Velika Kladusa, reported the death last week of a child killed by a mine. About 10,000 of those who fled the stronghold of the Muslim renegade businessman, Fikret Abdic, when it fell to Bosnian government forces, are caught in no man's land between the Krajina region and the rest of Croatia.

About 3,000 people, many of them children, marched to the UN check-point at Turanj to protest at their plight. About 100 moved to a Croatian check-point to demonstrate against Croatia's refusal to allow them in the country. UN officials urged them to return to the Bihac enclave but were ignored.

'Refugees are beginning to settle in the bombed-out houses that line this road but many are mined and the whole area is extremely dangerous,' said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Sarajevo. UN officials are concerned about the health risks facing about 10,000 refugees who are children. The UN has begun vaccinating them but it cannot protect them from the debris of war. One young girl was blown up by an anti-personnel mine in one of the abandoned houses in Turanj.

UN officials have criticised Mr Abdic and his forces for scare-mongering. They say it is safe for the refugees to return home. The Bosnian government has offered an amnesty to those who fought for Mr Abdic and has agreed to the presence of 15 UN policemen to monitor the situation in Velika Kladusa.

'The problem is that Fikret Abdic has been speaking on the radio, providing what is blatant disinformation on the situation in Velika Kladusa,' Mr Kessler said. 'Even UN aid workers have been harassed (by Abdic troops) in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign to prevent refugees getting independent analyses of the situation in Kladusa.'

The refugees say they are terrified of returning to a town controlled by the forces they fought for 11 months.