Croatia moves to revoke ID cards of Serb refugees

BANJA LUKA -- Serbs driven out of their homes in Croatia who now live in the RS, in Bosnia, have received invitations to hand back their Croatian identity cards.

The Serbs have been contacted either directly by the authorities in Croatia, or via that country's consulate in Banja Luka, RS.

This comes after Croatia's new Law on Residency recently came into effect, envisaging that ID cards would be taken away from persons who do not reside on the address stated in the document, and that those persons would lose their right to vote and apply to have their property returned or repaired.

This affects some 7,000 Serb refugees now living in the Serb Republic (RS), who will be unable to reclaim their apartments, seek repair of their damaged property, or compensation for the loss of farming land.

Croatian policemen were given the authority "to simply erase (from registers)" any person found not to be residing at the address stated in the ID card.

Petar Džodan, who heads the Association of Serb Refugees from Krajina and Croatia, commented on the news to say that the removal of ID cards from refugees had been ongoing for months, but that the recent adoption of the law accelerated it.

He told the Banja Luka daily Glas Srpske that the association had turned to the Autonomous Democratic Serb Party in Croatia for help, but that the party "has no means to help the refugees".

A coalition of refugee associations in Serbia earlier this month sent an initiative to the Serbian government to sign a bilateral agreement with Croatia in order to attempt to protect their property rights, and in that way postpone the implementation of the contentious law.

Džodan explained that Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia already have such an agreement, but that the rights of Serbs were being violated regardless, while representatives of refugees "had no way to defend them".