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Return of Yugoslav Refugees Slow

April 22, 1998

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The return of refugees to the former Yugoslavia has been slowed by ownership conflicts between people who fled and those who moved into the vacated homes, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

Sadako Ogata, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters that about 1.8 million people from the former Yugoslavia remain ``displaced″ more than two years after the Dayton agreement ended the conflict in Bosnia.

About 200,000 of the uprooted people live in Germany. The Bonn government is eager to speed repatriation because of the strains on the country’s social services.

After briefing the Security Council, Ogata said the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Bosnia have limited ability to absorb the returnees because of the lack of adequate housing and the property disputes.

Many homes were destroyed in the fighting. When combatants from one ethnic camp forced rival groups to flee, houses were often taken over by families from the victorious faction.

When the original owners return, the newcomers have no place to go, she said.

``The one big problem that I see is this `chain of house occupancy’ and property problems _ one group being displaced and their houses are occupied by another group,″ Ogata said.

She recommended that foreign governments build temporary housing for refugees until permanent housing can be found or property conflicts resolved.

Ogata said so far, only 5,000 people have registered with the United Nations for return to homes in areas ruled by another ethnic group. She called that figure ``disappointing.″

``At the same time there are signs that people are coming back to have a look at their houses or see what has happened to their houses that are occupied by other people,″ she said.

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