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Bosnian Croat ‘State’ Hardly Feels Like Home to Croat Refugees

September 3, 1993

MEDJUGORJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Bosnian Croat nationalists have proudly proclaimed their own ministate in Bosnia, but it has left some of their constituents feeling like aliens in their own land.

″I feel like a foreigner here, even though I am among Croats,″ said 29- year-old Bruna, one of nearly 300,000 Croats forced from their homes in central Bosnia by fighting with Muslims.

Now she is a refugee in Herceg-Bosna, a self-declared Croat state in the hardscrabble hills of western Herzegovina near the border with Croatia proper.

″We - Herzegovinians and central Bosnian Croats - were always two different nations, even though the ground distance between us was not so great,″ said Bruna, who refused to give her last name.

Mate Boban’s Herceg-Bosna may never be an internationally recognized state. Many predict it eventually will be annexed to Croatia.

Whatever its fate, it probably will become home for tens of thousands of reluctant Croat refugees from central Bosnia. Hatreds fanned by war have made it impossible to return home to live with Serbs and Muslims as neighbors.

Many Croat refugees blame their plight at least in part on Boban, a fervent nationalist annointed by the government of neighboring Croatia to lead Bosnian Croats.

They suggest that he sacrificed their homes in the interest of forging a small, homogenous Herceg-Bosna populated only by Croats.

″I feel bitter,″ said economist Nevenka Pocrnja, a central Bosnian Croat who has found refuge in a private hotel in the southwestern town of Medjugorje.

″It seems (Boban) did not try enough to defend us.″

The 47-year-old Pocrnja is among 6,000 Croats who fled the town of Bugojno at the end of July.

Bosnian Croats made up about 17 percent of Bosnia’s prewar population of 4.3 million. Only 250,000 lived in what is now considered Herceg-Bosna.

Many of the remaining half-million lived in central Bosnian territory that would go to a small Muslim state under various plans to carve up the former Yugoslav republic.

Croats and Muslim-led government troops fought side by side against rebel Serbs at the start of Bosnia’s war, but their shaky alliance crumbled in fighting for central Bosnian territory not controlled by Serbs.

Pocrnja and other refugees say weapons that Croats supplied to the Muslims early in the war have since been turned against them.

″Boban maybe tried to save central Bosnia, but all I know is that he lost it,″ she said.

Zdenka Ivankovic, owner of the small hotel that now accommodates Pocrnja and nearly 160 other refugees, also questions Boban’s tactics.

″We now have what we always had - Herzegovina (with) Herzegovinians, stone and snakes,″ she muttered. ″Now all we gain is the addition of central Bosnian Croats to this poor and small land.″

It always has been tough to scrape out a living on Herzegovina’s rocky terrain. Even in better times, many people left in search of jobs elsewhere in Bosnia or abroad.

″Now, where will Boban find jobs for all the central Bosnian Croats?″ she asked. ″How can we all survive here?″

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