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Thursday, January 15, 1998 Published at 19:11 GMT



World

Croatians head home after six years
image: [ Croatians are returning home to rebuild shattered lives ]
Croatians are returning home to rebuild shattered lives

Land occupied by Serbs has been handed back to the Croatian authorities as part of the peace deal ending the 1991-95 Croatian war.

During the war an estimated 80,000 Croats living in Eastern Slavonia were forced into exile.

The BBC's Jon Devitt has followed the return of one such family:


[ image: Magdalena Kovcevic: at home after over 6 years as a refugee]
Magdalena Kovcevic: at home after over 6 years as a refugee
At a ceremony full of symbolism on the outskirts of Vukovar, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the area, some of that land was handed back to returning refugees

Magdalena Kovcevic is one Croat on the move. This former art teacher from Eastern Slavonia is going home.

She leaves behind her temporary home, a one-time military hospital in the centre of the Croatian capital Zagreb. On the walls is a child's painting of the bloody battle for Vukovar which took place in 1991 and which heralded the eventual breaking up of the former Yugoslavia.


[ image: The war affected all ages.]
The war affected all ages.
After three months of siege, those of the town's Croat population that survived the intense bombardment and house-to-house fighting were forced to leave, as did tens of thousands more from elsewhere in Eastern Slavonia.

In the week that Croatia takes full control of the region Magdalena Kovcevic is returning home. She joins her husband at the house they left on the banks of the River Danube on October 17 1991.


[ image: House-to-house fighting ravaged Vukovar and surrounding villages]
House-to-house fighting ravaged Vukovar and surrounding villages
They left with one plastic bag each filled with a few possessions. They were told by Serb soldiers that if they did not leave extremists would kill them. The house, which has been stripped of all its contents, is in a sorry state. Animals were kept on the upper floor and fire has charred the walls.

Most of the houses in their village are now occupied by Serbs. Even so Magdalena Kovcevic says she is optimistic: "We are not afraid because we know the Serbs are going to leave. They have everything packed up. They have to leave the Croatian homes."


[ image: Magdalena Kovcevic's Serb neighbours will stay until the spring]
Magdalena Kovcevic's Serb neighbours will stay until the spring
In many ways Magdalena Kovcevic and her husband are lucky. Although damaged, their house with a little bit of work is at least habitable.

But their return is not entirely straightforward, because while the Kovcevics are living upstairs, a Serb couple who have been there two years and who are themselves refugees, are living downstairs. But they too say they are ready to return as soon as spring comes.
 





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