Refugee mobs shake the pillars of Dayton peace deal

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Angry mobs and disgruntled refugees will slowly but surely pull down a pillar of the Dayton peace agreement - the right of displaced Bosnians to return home - unless Nato is willing to enforce free movement, as was agreed at Dayton, writes Emma Daly.

The crowds confronting one another across the internal border may degenerate into conflict if the local authorities, particularly the Bosnian Serbs, who abhor an ethnic mix, continue to block the return of refugees. The agreement could collapse if thousands displaced by war lose hope of returning in peace and resort again to force.

Yesterday a crowd of about 60 Serbs, brandishing cudgels, metal bars, axes and a large flag, blocked the road leading to Teslic, a town in northern Bosnia "cleansed" of Muslims, to prevent the arrival of 150 refugees who were hoping to visit their homes. Serb policemen ordered journalists to return to government-held territory, claiming they could not restrain the crowd

But the Serb crowd need not have worried. A few hundred yards up the road, dozens of Polish I-For troops, backed by at least 14 armoured personnel carriers, had set up a road block.

In vain did members of the International Police Task Force (IPTF), escorting three Muslim buses, request Nato's help in conducting the visit, which had been approved earlier by Serb officials in Teslic. I-For says civilian crowd control is a police responsibility.But the IPTF monitors are unarmed and the Serb cops were unhelpful.

Could not I-For escort the buses through safely, we asked the commander? "No," he replied. "Because of the Dayton agreement we cannot stop people from moving." But was that not exactly what his troops were doing? "Yes, but only for their safety."

The waiting Muslims argued with the Polish officers but remained relatively good-natured. "Why don't you use your big guns to shoot your way through and we'll follow in the buses?" cried one man, to laughter.

"I-For can't do anything, no one can do anything," said Vinko Glavas. He tried to cross with his wife and children but was turned back by Serb police. "My wife is a Serb and her father tried to come to the check-point to see her, but the police would not let him through."

Under Dayton, all citizens have the right to move freely across Bosnia, and the right to return to homes in "enemy" territory. Refugees have waited now for four months. Still they cannot go home; their patience may not last much longer.