On the other hand, to date 940 Bosniaks have returned to Prijedor. With the aim of encouraging refugee returns to Prijedor and Sanski Most, recently representatives of the two municipalities signed a protocol of cooperation. Muhamed Lemes, the mayor of Sanski most, one of the initiators and signatories of the protocol, says that he is satisfied with its implementation in the region of Sanski Most.
NN: Are you satisfied with the implementation of this protocol by the municipality of Prijedor?
The advantage of this agreement is that for the first time an important public official from the Republic of Srpska, the mayor of a large city, visited citizens of Serbian nationality. We don't have a problem visiting both Serbs and Bosniaks but its different when they are visited by their own officials. We regularly visit our citizens in Prijedor and Banja Luka. We feel it is important to help those people. Because if we are one ethnic group then we must build solidarity among ourselves. We can put together a convoy of 20 truckloads of humanitarian assistance at the drop of a hat. You don't see that among the Serbs and it surprises us. No one has visited these people; no one has brought them so much as a bag of flour, never mind a truckload of building materials.
NN: It is being said that the protocol on cooperation was supposedly signed only to fool the High Representative and with the goal of keeping you and the mayor of Prijedor, Borislav Maric, in office.
My function was not endangered at all; therefore, I had absolutely no reason to fool representatives of the International Community. Prior to the signing of this agreement, that is, operational plan for the return of property and residency rights to citizens, we evicted Bosniaks from more than 40 apartments and freed up approximately 50 to 60 houses. Those are the facts, not a deception.
NN: What is the municipal administration doing concretely with respect to the return of Serbs to Sanski Most?
We are doing a lot! At this time we have approximately 30 apartments which have been sealed [to prevent illegal occupation] and are awaiting the return of citizens of Serb nationality. We have also sealed the houses. Before the agreement was signed we brought water to those villages where citizens of Serb nationality were due to return. We built a road to Javasanovci which passes through Lusci Palanka, Bojiste and Prastale and is 12 kilometers long. We repaired the road leading to the village of Dabar. The majority of returnees whom we visit frequently have expressed satisfaction with the availability of electrical power and water, but also with security. All these are very important factors in the functioning of normal, everyday life. All in all, the will exists because we know there will be no unified Bosnia-Hercegovina if everyone is pulling in a different direction. It would be best for people to return to their own homes; once they are in their own property, let them decide for themselves whether to stay or not. But in order for them to stay, the right conditions must be created.
NN: You have offered a similar agreement to other cities in RS as well?
Yes. We proposed that within a period of two months we would empty Lusci Palanka and Podlug as long as the Bosniaks who are now living there are able to return to Prijedor and Novi Grad. You know, citizens from Novi Grad are living in Podlug, and a number of Serbs from Podlug are living in their houses in Novi. Palanka is populated exclusively by Bosniaks from Prijedor while Serbs from Palanka are living in their apartments there. With an agreement both groups would be able to return. I am using this opportunity to extend my invitation to representatives of the municipal administration of Banja Luka so that we can sign this kind of agreement with them as well.
NN: One of your proposals, which unfortunately was not agreed to by Prijedor, was that you would guarantee employment for returnees. How would you implement such a plan?
Very simply, on the basis of reciprocity. We would find employment for as many Serbs in Sanski Most as there were Bosniaks employed in Prijedor. At the present time we can reopen the clothing factory in Lusci Palanka and we can employ approximately 20 people immediately in forestry. There is already one Serb employed in the local administration of Lusci Palanka, and one is employed in the Information Center. We all need to work to live and what is the point even if someone has an apartment, a house or land but no place to work nor the means to till the land. That is why it is necessary to initiate agricultural production and we have already organized this. In the region of Palanka, where the fields are as fertile as Vojvodina, we have distributed picks, spades and hoes. From the humanitarian organizations we received tractors, cattle, planting seed and people have already planted crops.
NN: You have also advocated that a Serb Orthodox priest return to Sanski Most?
People are returning and if you practice your Eastern Orthodox faith then you must have your shepherd who will be with the people. Because if the Serbs are proud of their spirituality and constantly talking about it, then a priest should come and be here with the people and visit them. We have good cooperation with the Catholic priest, Fr. Ivo, and we wish to work together with an Orthodox priest in the same way. Because if an Eastern Orthodox priest can walk freely through Sanski Most, then tomorrow an imam will return and be able to walk freely through Prijedor. We showed that we have freedom of religion here when liturgy was held for Christmas, as well as by our offer to assist with the renovation of the priest's house.
"Our assessment is that soon the number of evictions will increase, especially after the most recent agreement of the mayors of Sanski Most and Prijedor," emphasized the police commander in Sanski Most, adding that the evictions were being carried out without problems. It is interesting that Sanski Most policemen are themselves frequently the "victims" of evictions. The majority of them live in houses owned by others because their property is in RS.
In Sanski Most, according to commander Dzamdzic, during the past year more than 5,000 Serbs visited their property and the graves of their loved ones and only three incidents occurred. The instigator of two of the three attacks on Serb returnees is serving a sentence in Zenica jail, while the third was charged with a misdemeanor.