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Deputy PM speaks of progress in refugee return

ZAGREB, March 3 (Hina) - Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor spoke about the Croatian government's progress in refugee return at a round-table discussion in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina on Tuesday.

Kosor took part in the discussion, which focused on reconstruction as a prerequisite for returns, at the invitation of the Bosnian Ministry on Human Rights and Refugees.

She stressed the Croatian government had the political will to resolve as soon as possible issues related to the return of refugees and providing for them.

Since the return began in 1995, about 350,000 refugees have been registered in Croatia, including about 126,000 Serbs, of whom 92,878 have come back from Serbia and 9,408 from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some 1,200 Bosnian refugees are still in Croatia.

So far, Croatia has invested HRK 38 billion from the state budget in programmes for the return of refugees and displaced persons, and more than 145,000 houses and flats have been reconstructed with HRK 16 billion from the state budget, said Kosor.

She said one of the remaining problems in refugee return regarded former tenancy rights holders, which prompted the Croatian government to adopt last year an Action Plan for an accelerated provision of housing to those former tenancy rights holders wishing to return to Croatia. Last June, Croatia also resolved the issue of convalidation.

Speaking of the return of Croats to Bosnia's Serb entity, Kosor called on Bosnian institutions to invest additional efforts in order to make returns safe and permanent.

She also highlighted the role of the Catholic Church in Bosnia in the return process and thanked Banja Luka Bishop Franjo Komarica for his efforts in this regard.

The Croatian government spent HRK 200 million by the end of last year to help the return of Croats to Bosnia, saying this programme included 3,000 families, and that HRK 47 million had been set aside in this year's budget for that purpose.

Kosor also spoke of the implementation of the agreement between Croatia and the Bosnian Council of Ministers on cooperation regarding the rights of former members of Bosnia's Croat Defence Council and their families.

As one of Bosnia's three constituent peoples, Croats should have the same rights as Bosniaks and Serbs, and all Croats wishing to return to prewar homes in Bosnia should be helped, Kosor said.