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Ruling Muslim Party Brings Campaign to Croat Stronghold

August 24, 1996

CAPLJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The Muslim-led party governing much of Bosnia brought its campaign Saturday to a town purged of almost all its former Muslim residents.

It was the first time since war broke out in 1992 that one of Bosnia’s ethnic-based parties had crossed into territory controlled by another ethnic group without violence.

And it was the first time in three years that some of Capljina’s former residents had been allowed to come home _ if only for the brief meeting in a local movie theater.

The Muslim-led Party of Democratic Action brought about 500 supporters in buses to the Bosnian Croat-controlled town to a rally for the Sept. 14 elections. The crowd, carrying white-and-green party banners, was guarded by a heavy cordon of Croat police.

Police sealed off the neighborhood, blocking all the roads leading to the cinema.

``We all grew up in no-man’s land,″ said the sign on the building, suggesting that no one ethnic group could lay exclusive claim to Capljina, 90 miles south of the capital Sarajevo.

In the cinema, the flags of the Muslim party and that of the Bosnian republic were placed side by side in front of the speakers’ podium. A Croat coat of arms hung from a side wall.

Croats expelled all but about 250 of Capljina’s 7,000 prewar Muslim population in 1993, during the Muslim-Croat conflict fought alongside the war pitting Muslims and Croats against the Serbs, said Musair Penava, head of the association of expelled residents.

``We came here today to show that we do not give up our hometown and we want to return,″ Penava said. ``We will all come here to vote.″

The crowd was addressed by representatives of both the strongest Bosnian Croat party and the SDA, the Muslim-led party formally governing the half of Bosnia not held by the Serbs. A Muslim-Croat federation is to assume control of that non-Serb half sometime after the elections.

``We wish a good campaign to the SDA,″ said Miroslav Djevenica, head of the Croatian Democratic Union in Capljina.

Clearly moved at being home again, many in the audience had tears running down their cheeks during the 45-minute meeting.

Afterward, the SDA supporters immediately boarded their buses again, and police escorted them out of the city.

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