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Muslims Reclaim Mountain Village in Serb Territory

October 7, 1996

JUSICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ With a saw on one shoulder and a shovel across the other, Redzo Hasanovic returned to this mountain village _ happy for the chance to repair his war-battered house.

The patch-up job may be the least of his concerns. Hasanovic is among the Muslims hoping to restart their lives in their hometown, which lies in Serb-dominated territory.

Doing so will be a test of the Dayton peace agreement’s promise that they can go home after four years of exile brought on by ethnic war.

On Sunday, the 49-year-old Hasanovic and more than 100 other Muslims trudged up a winding, muddy road to reclaim this village, 20 miles east of Tuzla.

For many, it was their second homecoming.

They had attempted to return to Jusici two weeks ago _ some of them carrying weapons: Earlier in the summer, Serb police had beaten returning Muslims in the nearby village of Mahala.

The weapons, which violated the Dayton accords, were confiscated by Russian soldiers with the NATO-led peace force.

Local Serbs also demanded that the Muslims get official authorization to return. After a standoff, the Muslims left last week to wait for their property claims to be verified.

On Sunday, they returned, carrying tools needed to build roofs and patch battered walls.

``This may be the happiest day of my life,″ Hasanovic said as he headed for his house. ``I have some planks and I will improvise some kind of door. We will sleep on the cement floor with blankets.″

Russian peacekeepers counted heads, American troops supervised, and grim-looking Serb policemen observed from afar as the Muslims slowly moved into the village they fled four years ago.

Many of the returnees were women, some of whom lost sons and husbands in the war. The desire to return to the land was stronger than the fear of trying to build a new life under Serb administration.

``I lost three sons, but I’ll return to my home,″ shouted Safeta Hasanovic, the first person to pass through the Russian checkpoint.

Brig. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., deputy commander of American forces in this sector, said 60 property claims had been approved, and those residents would be allowed to stay.

Fifty-seven other applications were pending, he said. Those applicants would be allowed to work on their homes during the daytime, but could not return full-time until the paperwork was complete.

Peacekeeping troops will remain in the area for several more days. Many are concerned about what will happen when they pull out. Serb policemen, accompanied by U.N. police, are expected to begin patrolling the village soon.

``I’m not necessarily worried yet,″ Casey said. ``Throughout, the Serbs have been very patient. I’m uncertain of what the response is going to be now.″

Esad Ibrahimovic, 27, a village leader, sounded somewhat optimistic. He said Serb residents in the nearby villages of Malesci and Milosevici had said they were willing to cooperate with the Muslims.

Ibrahimovic said Jusici’s residents were ready to accept the Serb authority that prevails in this part of Bosnia.

``We are quite aware that we are in the border and we are ready to cooperate with the people of Malesci and Milosevici,″ he said. ``We are ready to forget that atrocities happened here in 1992.″

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