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Croatian Serbs calls on Zagreb to do more to help refugee return

Croatian Serbs urged Zagreb authorities on Tuesday, on the occasion of a UN-sponsored World Refugee Day, to step up efforts to help the return of Serbs who fled the country during the 1990s war. "Since a large number of refugees are still waiting to return, Croatia has to make additional efforts... to enable all those who want to return to do so," the Serb Democratic Forum (SDF) non-governmental organisation said in a statement.

Zagreb should also pass measures to ensure that returnees are well integrated back into society, it said. Croatia's proclamation of independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 sparked a four-year war with Serb rebels, who were backed by the Belgrade regime. According to United Nations figures, some 280,000 ethnic Serbs fled Croatia during and after the war. About 40 percent of them have returned so far.

"During the past few years the Croatian government has made significant efforts ... to solve the refugee issue," the SDF said. "However, despite these efforts the issues facing refugees and those who return are still of concern." SDF cited among the unresolved issues the increasing number of attacks against Serb returnees in 2005 and this year, problems with recuperating Serb returnees' property and difficulties in getting Croatian citizenship.

The Serbs are Croatia's largest minority, accounting for 4.5 percent of a population of 4.4 million. Their return and persistent ethnic tensions are among the key issues facing Croatia as it pursues its goal of joining the European Union by the end of the decade.

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