Serbs declare refugees 'deserters'

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The Independent Online
THE Bosnian Serb government has declared that all men of fighting age living in neighbouring countries as refugees are deserters, ineligible for international protection, and face imprisonment or the confiscation of their property if they fail to answer a new mobilisation call.

'We are embittered by the great number of young men able to fight who are staying in Serbia,' the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic told the Serbian daily Borba. 'For those deserters, rigorous penalties are predicted, ranging from jail to taking their property away.'

The mobilisation of unwilling Serbian refugees in neighbouring Serbia and Montenegro, apparently with the assistance of their host governments, has been denounced by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as a violation of international humanitarian law, which protects refugees from forced repatriation.

But the UNHCR's position has been rejected by officials of the government of the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic (Republica Srpska). Vitomir Popovic, the 'deputy prime minister', said yesterday in his office in Banja Luka that the UN Charter, Helsinki Accords and the Geneva conventions did not apply to draft-dodgers from Serb-held areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

'According to the law of Republica Srpska, these refugees living in Serbia are not refugees at all, and don't have any rights under international conventions,' he said. 'Those who . . . left yesterday to avoid war are deserters.'

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