BOB ABERNETHY (anchor): Five years ago this month, the U.S. helped put together what came to be known as the Dayton Peace Accords, to end the war in Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia. After the fall of Communism there, fighting between Bosnian Muslims, Serbian Orthodox [Christians], and Croat Catholics had taken 200,000 lives. Another 800,000 lost their homes.
Today, with international aid and peacekeepers, the survivors are trying to overcome their hatred and reclaim their homes -- neither one an easy task.
Our special report is from Fred de Sam Lazaro.
DE SAM LAZARO: It was a crisp fall evening in Montenegro,
as a bus-load of mostly Serb refugees began an overnight
journey to Sarajevo, capital of neighboring Bosnia. The
purpose of the trip: to press claims to homes they fled
or were driven from during the brutal civil war that pitted
Bosnia's Serb, Croat, and Muslim communities against one
another, turning an integrated, multicultural nation into
a patchwork of ethnically-cleansed enclaves.
PAVLE BELOSAVIC (Refugee Resettlement Officer): I
suppose they believe that after all those years, time has
come to go back, because, after all, their roots are there,
they have some friends, old neighbors, maybe they believe
that [a] new beginning is possible.
DE SAM LAZARO: Refugees trying to reclaim their old
homes face an often painful game of musical chairs. Their
homes, if they're still habitable, are often occupied by
people driven from their own homes elsewhere in this divided
country. All told, as many as 800,000 people were displaced
during the war.
The next day, Ljiljana Avramovic tried to visit her old
apartment, but found no one home. Still, the former school
teacher, whose spent seven years in refugee shelters,
will press on with her claim with city authorities,
even though Avramovic, a Serb, says the neighborhood she fled has changed from multicultural to mostly Muslim.
AVRAMOVIC (Refugee): This is the city of my husband
and my children. I am doing it especially for my children,
they want it. There is a lot of change here, a lot of new
people. I don't have a problem with this, but things will
never be the way they were before.
DE SAM LAZARO: One prominent reminder of the change:
right across from her bomb-ravaged high rise is a brand
new mosque, funded by the Saudi Arabian government. One
thing the war did was bring a mostly non-observant nation,
Communist since World War II, back into places of worship.
It changed largely ethnic identities into religious ones:
Serbs as Orthodox [Christians], Croats [as] Catholics, and
Bosnians as Muslims, according to Paul Taylor of the American
Refugee Committee, a resettlement agency
TAYLOR: It was a source of support and comfort to be
amongst your own. I know from my experience, when I was
working in Mostar, the churches were packed every Sunday
in '95. People who never went to church before decided they wanted to appear there; that was a source of solidarity
DE SAM LAZARO: Another big reason for religious congregations
This is a symbol of the massacre on the 23rd of October,
1993. The Ustache units killed 38 innocent civilians --
inhabitants of this village who had to pay a price.
Klisura Elzedin, a Muslim cleric in the village of Stupni
Dor, recalls how Croatian militiamen murdered 38 [Muslim]
men, women, and children here.
ELZEDIN (Muslim cleric): We just commemorated the seventh
anniversary of it. But we must go on, and we only go on
if we are spiritually stronger and if we always remember
what happened to us. Muslims are offering the hand of reconciliation,
it's interesting that it's the victims who are offering
FATHER MATO MAJIC (Catholic priest): We are all victims
in some way.
In the neighboring village of Borovica, the story is almost
the same ... this time, the storyteller is a Catholic priest,
standing in the rubble of a church destroyed by Muslim militiamen.
Father Mato Majic is rebuilding with aid from [a] German
Catholic organization, proudly pointing to a construction
crew of both Croats and Muslims.
MAJIC: There is no other way than the way of forgiveness
and love -- that's the only correct way to lead us to a
better future. There is no other way than the way of living
DE SAM LAZARO: The Dayton Peace Accords did in effect
call for citizens of all three groups to live together,
and restoring displaced people to their former homes has
been a condition for [the] Western aid that's poured into
After a seven-year silence, the Muslim call to prayer is
heard again in Vecici -- a village that now finds itself
in a region claimed by Bosnian Serbs during the war and
named the Republic of Srpska.