United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8ab10.html [accessed 25 April 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
At the end of 1997, more than 800,000 Bosnians remained internally displaced. More than 600,000 Bosnian refugees without durable solutions remained outside the country. Bosnia hosted more than 40,000 refugees from Croatia. Uprooted people returned to their homes at a slower rate in 1997, and the proportion of those remaining displaced within or outside Bosnia increasingly represented persons originating from areas controlled by members of other ethnic groups. About 297,000 Bosnian refugees were living in other countries of the former Yugoslavia, and 262,000 outside former Yugoslavia, the largest number in Germany. Refugees from Croatia Bosnia has not only produced hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons, but has also hosted tens of thousands of ethnic Serb refugees from Croatia who have found refuge in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity. Estimates of their number vary widely, with the Krajina Serb Society saying 100,000 and UNHCR saying 40,000. Many occupy the homes of Croats and Muslims in western Republika Srpska who were forced out during the war. During 1997, little humanitarian assistance reached these refugees. Chances were remote that ethnic Croat and Muslim displaced persons and refugees would return to their homes in western Republika Srpska while Croatian Serb refugees lived in their homes. However, Croatian authorities resisted allowing these refugees to return to the Krajina region of Croatia, from which most had been expelled in August 1995, and Bosnian Serb leadership appeared to prefer that the refugees remain in Republika Srpska to maintain the demographic balance in their favor. Most of the refugees lived in abandoned homes, few were able to find work, and most eked out an impoverished existence. Bosnian Refugee Repatriation Since the December 1995 signing of the Dayton Agreement, about 200,000 refugees (about 110,000 in 1997) and 223,000 internally displaced persons (58,000 in 1997) had returned, overwhelmingly to majority areas. During the year, only about 8,700 refugees repatriated to Republika Srpska. The 1997 returns represented less than half of what UNHCR projected at the beginning of the year. As returns slowed, it became clear that most of the remainder were not able to return to their original homes. The "easy" cases had gone homepeople returning to homes in places controlled by members of their own ethnic group. The large remainder, persons who had fled or been forced out of areas where they would be in the ethnic minority, encountered daunting obstacles to return, despite Dayton Agreement guarantees for freedom of movement and the return of refugees to their homes. In 1997, an estimated 70 percent of such returnees opted to relocate to other areas of Bosnia where they would be part of the ethnic majority. In April 1997, UNHCR announced its policy on refugee repatriation to Bosnia. While it still favored voluntary repatriation, UNHCR said it would not object to the involuntary repatriation of persons to habitual places of residence if those locations were within areas where their own ethnic group was the majority and controlled the area, and if host countries considered case-by-case exceptions to the policy based on individual circumstances. During 1997, 1,143 Bosnians were deported from other countries to Bosnia, 929 from Germany alone. Other countries deporting Bosnians in 1997 included Austria (90), Switzerland (49), Slovenia (22), the Netherlands (20), and 8 others. The majority of deportees from Germany were Muslim (60 percent). The rate of deportations increased during the year from 240 in the first six months to 689 in the last. In January, Germany deported only 2 persons to Bosnia, and in December, it deported 165, the year's lowest and highest monthly totals. UNHCR warned that specific categories of people were still likely not able to return: persons originating in areas where they would no longer be in the majority upon return (including Croats and Muslims within the Federation); persons of mixed ethnicity or in mixed marriages; severely traumatized persons, such as former detainees and victims or witnesses of extreme violence; minority members of the armed forces; potentially stateless persons; Roma (gypsies); witnesses testifying before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY); draft evaders from the former Bosnian Serb Army; and certain categories of medically and socially vulnerable people. In 1997, about 95,000 Bosnian refugees returned from Germany alone. In Germany, up to 80 percent of the 220,000 refugees lacking a durable solution were believed to originate from areas controlled by members of another ethnic group. Overwhelmingly, these were Muslims from Serb-controlled Bosnia. To facilitate repatriation, UNHCR set up five transit centers at the main points of return. Internal Displacement In 1997, about 450,000 of the internally displaced were within the Muslim-Croat Federation, of whom about 117,000 originated from within the Federation and about 333,000 from the Republika Srpska. Another 366,000 persons were displaced in Republika Srpska. Of that number, 317,000 originated in the Federation; the other 49,000 were displaced within the Republika Srpska. Most internally displaced persons in Bosnia were living in the abandoned properties of other refugees and displaced persons or with other families in their homes. At year's end, about 14,000 displaced persons were still living in 129 collective centers. The number of internally displaced people who were able to return to their homes also slowed in 1997 because most of those still displaced originated in areas dominated by members of another ethnic group. Of the more than 1 million people internally displaced at the end of the war, 164,767 were known to have returned in 1996, but only 58,000 returned in 1997, a 65 percent decrease from 1996. An analysis of returns by entity and canton is also revealing. For example, nearly 37,000 internally displaced people returned to Una-Sana Canton in 1996, but only 250 in 1997, a more than 99 percent drop. However, Una-Sana Canton was second only to Sarajevo as the destination for repatriating refugees in 1997 (and recorded virtually the same number of returns in both 1996 and 1997about 23,500 each year). This could suggest that significantly more repatriating refugees were relocating rather than returning to their original homes. The number of internally displaced persons returning to Republika Srpska dropped to about 5,000 in 1997, compared to 61,854 registered returnees in 1996. The largest number of internally displaced Serbs, 22,672, returned to Mrkonjic Grad. Another 11,963 returned to Kljuc in 1996 and 1997, and 11,151 to Sipovo. Minority Returns Minority returns, upon which the hopes for an integrated Bosnia rest, progressed slowly during the year. UNHCR counted 33,837 minority returns in 1997, compared with 11,556 in 1996. The 45,000 returning minorities since Dayton have been more than offset by new minority displacements. Some 80,000 minorities have abandoned their homes since Dayton was signed, mostly Serbs leaving the Sarajevo suburbs in early 1996, which the Dayton Agreement transferred to Federation control. Those minorities allowed to return have overwhelmingly been elderly or otherwise perceived as non-threatening to the controlling majority group. Ironically, return to homes under the control of members of another ethnic group has often meant separating families, because able-bodied, military-aged family members have not been permitted to return. The largest number of minority returns have been Serbs (5,600) and Croats (13,300) returning to Sarajevo, according to UNHCR. Serbs and others have challenged this number. In October, the president of the Yugoslav Association of Refugees and Displaced Persons charged that even these modest figures of minority returns were exaggerated. Citing the Serb Civil Council of Bosnia-Hercegovina, he said that only 2,300 Serbs had returned to the Federation, of whom 700not 5,600went to Sarajevo. He said that international agencies' figures were incorrectly based on applications for documents from former places of residence, and not on actual returns. By year's end, Sarajevo Canton authorities had registered 2,556 Serbs as returning to Sarajevo. Statistics on Serb and Croat return were unreliable. Many of those registered as returnees had not actually returned (in part due to legal obstacles to reclaiming pre-war apartments), and persons returning to Sarajevo did not necessarily stay there. In some cases, the returns were temporary; Serbs and Croats sometimes returned to test the waters or to re-establish property claims without intending to return permanently. In other cases, persons registering for return continued to shuttle between their properties in Sarajevo and other parts of Bosnia or Croatia. During USCR's site visit to Bosnia in September, Property Commission officials wondered out loud whether a significant portion of the 19,000 persons who registered property claims in Sarajevo Canton were more interested in establishing ownership claims in order to sell or trade property than in returning. In 1997, few minorities returned to Republika Srpska. UNHCR recorded 1,123 minority returns (968 Muslims; 155 Croats) to Republika Srpska during the year (the same figure UNHCR reports for total minority returns to the Republika Srpska since Dayton). Most of these minority returns, although technically to Republika Srpska, were actually to the battle-scarred, landmine-infested zone of separation near Brcko. This area is strategically critical to both Bosnian Serbs and Muslims, with both sides intent on using displaced persons or returnees to stake territorial claims. At the end of 1997, 817 families had registered as returning to their homes in the zone of separation, of whom 583 had returned to the area near Brcko. Clearly, some internally displaced persons were also relocating to the zone, but no numbers were available. Brcko is located at the narrowest point of the northeastern corridor linking Serb-controlled eastern Bosnia and Serb-controlled northern Bosnia. Serbs, a minority in pre-war Brcko, took control of the town in May 1992, and violently expelled 40,000 to 60,000 Croats and Muslims from the area. Brcko's significance was highlighted in the Dayton Agreement, which delayed a decision on Brcko, saying its status would be determined by arbitration a year after the Dayton signing. On February 14, the Office of the High Representative placed Brcko under direct international supervision for another year, delaying a decision on its final status until March 1998. On April 24, the Office of the High Representative established a procedure for return to Brcko, setting up a system for displaced persons to identify their properties and to establish their intent to return, for deciding on ownership claims, and for arranging to evict occupants of their properties. Through the end of November, the Commission for Real Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees had checked more than 7,400 claims in the Brcko area, and had sent nearly 6,200 of those to the Brcko Return Commission for a decision on return. (In March 1998, the international arbiters for Brcko again postponed a decision on the town's control, leaving Serbs in de facto control (under an international supervisor) for at least the next nine months.) Minorities in Republika Srpska The Bosnian Serb leadership's staunch opposition to minority returns increased Federation officials' resistance to Serbs returning from Republika Srpska. Each party pointed fingers elsewhere, saying that cross-ethnic returns must be reciprocal. Bosnian Serbs maintained that they could not allow minorities back to Republika Srpska until Croatia agreed to the return of Croatian Serb refugees living in Muslim and Croat homes. With no progress on refugee return to Croatia, minority returns to Republika Srpska remained frozen during the year. The treatment of about 4,000 Muslims still living in Republika Srpska in 1997 became the barometer refugees and displaced persons used to measure the feasibility of their return. Most evidence pointed to discrimination and harassment aimed at forcing minorities out of their homes, especially the elderly. The Republika Srpska Law on Abandoned Property particularly encroached upon elderly minority members in the Republika Srpska, who were often forced to share their homes with ethnic Serb refugees and displaced persons. The OSCE noted this form of attempted displacement in Bijeljina, Brcko, Banja Luka, Doboj, and Teslic. Minority residents in these towns reported that displaced Serbs whom the local authorities had put into their homes threatened them. An elderly woman in Brcko told the OSCE that she was afraid to sleep in her own home because she was frightened of the Serb man living there. About one-third of the minorities who remained throughout the war were more than 60 years of age. Almost all of about 38 minority families whom a mob expelled from their homes in the fall of 1995 were still displaced at the end of 1997, despite court orders to evict the Serb displaced persons occupying their homes and to restore the rightful owners. New minority expulsions occurred in 1997. On April 9, a mob forced a Muslim family from its home in Vrbanja, the Banja Luka suburb that experienced attacks and expulsions in 1995 and 1996. This family had just returned to its home after being expelled in the summer of 1996, along with ten other families (they were the only family to have returned). In September 1997, USCR visited Banja Luka, and spoke with minorities who had remained there throughout the war. A Muslim man said that minorities cannot work because of ethnic discrimination in job hiring. "It is absurd that two years after Dayton we still need humanitarian aid," he said. "The reality is that two years after Dayton, there are people in Banja Luka who are hungry, have plastic sheets for windows, and stand in line for very small humanitarian hand-outs." He said that Muslims are dependent on the little wheat flour that comes through international humanitarian organizations. Pilot Return Project The international community has promoted minority returns in Bosnia in several stages. The first was the "pilot return project" intended to kick-start Muslim and Croat cross-ethnic returns in four Federation towns: Croat-controlled Stolac and Jajce, and Muslim-controlled Travnik and Bugojno. By the end of 1997, the agreed upon returns had occurred in Jajce, Travnik, and, belatedly, Bugojno, but not Stolac. On January 31, an apparently well-organized mob blocked a convoy carrying the first Muslim returnees to Stolac. Within a month, all reconstruction work was suspended on security grounds and did not resume until June. USCR visited Stolac in September. The 57 Muslim families that had returned were confined to a two-street ghetto, strewn with the rubble of dynamited houses. Vandals had stenciled the distinctive red-and-white checked Croatian flag on the sides of many of the Muslim returnees' houses. By year's end, 64 Muslim families were registered as having returned to Stolac. Croat minority returnees encountered harassment, and worse, in Bugojno and Travnik, the two Muslim-controlled pilot return towns. On August 30, two Croat returnees, a father and son, who had been refugees in Germany, were murdered in a village near Travnik. They were shot at close range as they were eating dinner in their home. On September 10, a Croat seeking to reclaim his home in Travnik was killed by the Muslim occupier of the house. The local police arrested the Muslim suspect, but released him 20 hours later. In Bugojno, on August 16, several Croat-owned homes were damaged or destroyed by rockets and anti-tank mines. Police arrested three men and charged them with the crime, but later released them. In the other Croat pilot return project town, Jajce, incidents of harassment and violence escalated during 1997. Between March 3 and April 29, the International Police Task Force (IPTF) recorded 30 Muslim houses being burned in Jajce. In one instance, a man forced his way into the home of a 65-year-old Muslim woman returnee, beat and robbed her, and then set both her and her house on fire. In early August, a mob of Bosnian Croats blocked the road to Jajce, threw rocks and bottles at trapped vehicles with license plates from Muslim-controlled areas, and set two houses on fire. The Croat police were very slow to respond. The following day, demonstrators again blocked the road leading to Jajce, and the Bosnian Croat police again stood idly by. Groups of Bosnian Croats, whom Muslims said they believed to include non-uniformed police officers, also began visiting Muslims in several villages in Jajce Municipality, threatening them and telling them to leave. On August 3, mob violence and house burnings escalated, and a 62 year-old Muslim man who had returned to repair his home was murdered, shot twice in the face, apparently at point-blank range, and once in the neck after he was facedown on the floor. That night, local police and IPTF escorted the remaining Muslim villagers from Kruscica and Bucici to Vinac. During the next two days, IPTF reported the burnings of ten houses and one stable in Jajce and surrounding villages. In all, about 700 Muslim returnees were forced to leave their homes. The IPTF report said, "The police conduct since January 1997 seems to have reflected a political agenda of hindering returns rather than reflecting proper principles of policing and protecting returnees." Two weeks after the expulsion, UNHCR and British troops escorted the expelled returnees back to their homes. Open Cities Initiative In March 1997, UNHCR announced the Open Cities Initiative (OCI), a commitment to reward with increased international assistance local communities that demonstrated openness to minority returns. Among the criteria for UNHCR recognition as an "open city" was a "genuine commitment" by local authorities for minority returns and "confirmation that minority returns are occurring or will take place without any abuse of these minorities." During the year, UNHCR recognized seven open cities: Bihac, Busovaca, Gorazde, Kakanj, Konjic, Vogosca, and Mrkonic Grad. The open cities demonstrated limited success in actual minority returns during 1997. Even the most promising of them, Konjic, which was recognized as an open city on July 1, showed questionable commitment to minority returns. The ethnic composition of Konjic before the war made it a good candidate for minority returns. It had an absolute majority Muslim population (54 percent) and, after the war, was under Muslim control. It seemed reasonable that the Konjic authorities would feel less threatened by the return of minorities, knowing that even after they returned, they would remain a minority. Nevertheless, following a meeting with the Konjic municipal authorities in November, UNHCR voiced dissatisfaction with the authorities' failure to solve long-standing property issues. By year's end, 113 Croats and 32 Serbs had returned to Konjic, according to the municipality. Serbs wanting to return to the open city of Vogosca (a suburb of Sarajevo) faced serious obstacles. Displaced Muslims occupying the homes of displaced Serbs resisted their return. When, in August, a group of Serbs went to Vogosca on an organized assessment visit, the Women of Srebrenica group led a boisterous demonstration against them, trapping their bus for hours and forcing their evacuation from the area. Despite their professed willingness to permit minority returns, municipal authorities appeared unwilling to proceed as long as the Women of Srebrenica maintained their opposition. Given the Pale Bosnian Serb leadership's opposition to Muslim return to Srebrenica (the pocket in the east that was the scene of the war's worst massacre), and the Women of Srebrenica's insistence that Serb return to Vogosca be contingent on Muslim return to Srebrenica, no returns were likely in the foreseeable future. At year's end, it was unclear whether UNHCR would continue to classify Vogosca as an open city. By that time, only 33 Croats and 7 Serbs had returned. In Bosnian Croat-controlled Busovaca, about 200 Muslims returned during the year. Bihac Municipality was recognized as an open city on August 21. Human Rights Watch published a report in August specifically citing human rights abuses in Bihac directed against dissident returning Muslims. "In contrast to other regions of Bosnia and Hercegovina," the report said, "the human rights abuses committed there are generally motivated by partisan politics rather than ethnic chauvinism." By year's end, 68 Serbs and 36 Croats had returned to Bihac. In November, UNHCR recognized not only the Gorazde Municipality as open, but the entire Gorazde Canton. By year's end, 20 minorities had returned to Gorazde. UNHCR also recognized Kakanj as open in November. By year's end, 101 Bosnian Croats and 44 Bosnian Serbs had returned to Kakanj. On December 15, an elderly Croat narrowly escaped serious injury when explosive devices were detonated in his house and another Croat home. The mayor of Kakanj denounced the incident. On December 17, UNHCR declared Mrkonic Grad an open city, the first in Republika Srpska. Both Mrkonic Grad and Sipovo, another Bosnian Serb controlled town that declared itself open, are located in the area known as "the anvil," because of the shape of land that juts into Federation territory in the farthest southwestern reach of Republika Srpska. These towns predictably became the first open cities in the Republika Srpska: they are far from the centers of Republika Srpska political power; the anvil is surrounded on three sides by Federation territory; and both Mrkonic Grad and Sipovo were more than three-quarters ethnic Serb before the war, so that their residents consider minority returns less threatening than in Serb-controlled towns with higher ratios of Croats and Muslims before the war. By year's end, 52 Muslims had returned to Mrkonic Grad. The U.S. government contributed $13 million to the Open Cities Initiative during 1997. European governments showed little interest in the OCI, perhaps because the open cities primarily involved the return of internally displaced people rather than the return of refugees from abroad. The Europeans, generally, demonstrated less interest in minority returns than did the U.S. government. The tally of minority returns to the seven open cities at year's end came to a paltry 706 (286 Croats, 252 Muslims, and 168 Serbs). During the same time, 3,250 majority members also returned to the open cities. At times, international officials combined the counts of minority and majority returns to the open cities, inaccurately presenting the total as minority returns. (On January 12, 1998, UNHCR recognized Sipovo as an open city. UNHCR announced that it would devote 80 percent of its funding in 1998 to open cities and potential open cities.)Central Bosnia Return Program The lack of progress on minority returns did not deter UNHCR, the Office of the High Representative, and other international actors from pushing local authorities to move forward with a canton-wide minority return initiative in the Central Bosnia Canton. That area, called Canton 6, includes Jajce, Travnik, Novi Travnik, Donji Vakuf, Vitez, Fojnica, Kiseljak, Gornji Vakuf, Kresevo, Busovaca, and Bugojno, some of the most ethnically mixed towns in the heart of pre-war Bosnia and the scene of some of the war's most bitter fighting between Muslims and Croats. On the heels of the Jajce evictions, the Bosnian Federation's president and vice president pledged to work toward the return of 40,000 minority displaced persons to their homes in the canton. The plan's success depended largely on international donors' willingness to fund projects in the area, which, at year's end, remained in question. Freedom of Movement Annex 4 of the Dayton Agreement, as well as the Bosnian constitution, guarantee freedom of movement, but Bosnians could not freely exercise this right in 1997. UNHCR did, however, expand its bus lines, which carried some 460,000 people across entity lines during the year, an average of 9,600 crossings per week. Nevertheless, Bosnian Serb police often interfered with the bus lines. In September, police harassment caused UNHCR to suspend the Tuzla-Zvornik route. Cars still carried distinctive license plates, showing at a glance that they were registered as Serb, Croat, or Muslim. This deterred most Bosnians from driving their cars not only across the entity line, but also within many areas of the Federation. Impediments to free movement included roadside assaults, illegal checkpoints, and illegal and discriminatory tolls near inter-entity crossing points. After the IPTF instituted new, tougher policies on illegal checkpoints in May and June, local police in both the Federation and the Republika Srpska set up fewer such checkpoints, although the problem did not disappear. Obstacles to free movement were often directed specifically at would-be returnees who wanted to cross into areas controlled by members of other ethnic groups to repair or assess conditions of their properties. In some cases, local authorities incited displaced persons in the majority area to create mob scenes preventing minority refugees and displaced persons from gaining access to their homes. This happened, for example, on August 12 in Tuzla, when a mob threatened a group of Serbs wanting to see their homes. Property Laws Both the Republika Srpska and Federation authorities have fashioned property laws to make it extremely difficult for refugees and displaced persons to reclaim their properties. On May 30, the Ministerial Meeting of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council issued the Sintra Declaration. Among other things, it called upon both the Federation and the Republika Srpska to amend their property laws to conform with Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement, saying that these laws "place insurmountable legal barriers in the path of return, effectively blocking hundreds of thousands of pre-war occupants from returning to their homes." The declaration said that the international community should condition its support of housing reconstruction upon such amendments. Establishing residence rights on pre-war housing has been especially difficult for persons who lived in "socially owned apartments." Many of these apartments, allocated by the state during the communist era, have been allocated to others, primarily to members of the military or to other displaced persons, such as war widows. In the Federation, the Law on Abandoned Apartments essentially strips persons of their pre-war occupancy rights to socially owned apartments abandoned during the war. A draft law on the privatization of socially owned apartments introduced in June, if passed by the Federation Assembly, would allow current occupants to purchase the flats where they live. The Republika Srpska Law on Abandoned Property formally allows pre-war owners to return, but conditions their return on current occupants agreeing to leave. In 1997, Bosnian Serb authorities vigorously encouraged Serb occupants to remain in minority homes. Other Obstacles to Return Local authorities have constructed other barriers to return. For example, they have demanded that some repatriating refugees pay a "war tax," as a retroactive contribution for the war effort. They have imposed such taxes disproportionately on minorities. Returning Muslims were targeted in Croat areas, such as Tomislavgrad, where the local authorities said that the tax was an alternative for service in the Croat militia. In Republika Srpska, the tax was calculated at 100 Deutsche Marks for each month during the war that the person was outside Republika Srpska. Authorities of all three ethnic groups imposed discriminatory taxes on Roma seeking to return to areas under their control. In one instance, in Zavidovici, a Roma family returning from Germany was forced back to Germany because it could not pay the heavy tax. Other laws and regulations continued to inhibit return. Authorities prevented would-be returnees from retrieving personal documents and otherwise obstructed efforts to retrieve their property. Neither the Republika Srpska's Law on Temporary and Permanent Residence nor the Federation's Draft Laws on Citizenship and Passports conformed with the requirements of the Dayton Agreement or international standards. Aside from official barriers, threats against would-be returnees' personal safety also prevented return. Often, stone-throwing mobs blocked would-be returnees attempting to visit to assess conditions. Vandalism and arson were also directed against properties of would-be returnees. Local police often appeared to condone, or even perpetrate, such acts. In west Mostar, on February 10, one Muslim was killed and 19 wounded when west Mostar (ethnic Croat) police opened fire on a group of Muslims visiting a graveyard. Within 48 hours of the shootings, more than 50 Muslim families in west Mostar (and one Croat family in east Mostar) were expelled from their homes. (More than 80 minority families had been illegally expelled from west Mostar in 1996.) With international assistance, most later returned, despite obstruction by local authorities. Landmines Among the obstacles to return are landmines. Reconstruction and development projects have been held up in many areas because they have not been secured from mines and unexploded ordnance. No one knows how many mines were sown in Bosnia, but estimates range up to six million. The mines and other unexploded ordnance are concentrated along the war's confrontation lines, which zigzagged across the country and changed shape during the war. Early in the year, mine casualties totaled about 50 per month, but jumped to 90 per month in the early summer, as more people tried to return to their homes. Persons seeking to prevent minority returns laid new mines and booby traps in 1997. This occurred in Jajce in August and September, following the return of the Muslims who were evicted in early August. In at least two instances, returnees stepped on mines planted at their homes. According to the Dayton Agreement, the former warring factions are responsible for mine clearance, not international military forces. By year's end, little progress had been made in clearing mines and rendering mined areas safe for habitation. The UN Mine Action Center (UNMAC) started demining activities in August 1997, but lack of funding limited its capacities, such that it concentrated on currently populated areas, not areas of potential refugee return. Prospects By year's end, the international community had lost patience with nationalists of various stripes who were obstructing the return of refugees and other steps toward securing a just peace. In December, the Peace Implementation Council, including representatives of the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany, empowered the high representative for Bosnia, Carlos Westendorp, to impose binding decisions if the three ruling nationalist parties could not agree among themselves to the implementation of the Dayton Agreement, and to dismiss Bosnian politicians who interfered with the peace process. The Conference set a January 31, 1998 deadline for the parties to agree on legislation on citizenship and passports, a common flag, and license plates. The Council demanded that the Bosnian authorities adopt PIC-endorsed draft citizenship and travel document laws by December 15, 1997. Also, in December, in another important signal inside and outside Bosnia of international resolve to implement the peace, including the return of refugees, President Clinton announced that U.S. troops would remain in Bosnia indefinitely.