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Cablegate: Deputy Pm Uzelac Assures Progress Will Be Made On

VZCZCXRO7483
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBW RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHVB #0357/01 1281444
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071444Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ZAGREB
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8300
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBW/AMEMBASSY BELGRADE 1983
RUEHLJ/AMEMBASSY LJUBLJANA 6410
RUEHPOD/AMEMBASSY PODGORICA
RUEHVJ/AMEMBASSY SARAJEVO 0282
RUEHTI/AMEMBASSY TIRANA 0827

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ZAGREB 000357

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR PRM, EUR/SCE AND EUR/RPM, BELGRADE FOR REFCOORD
JIKICH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PGOV PREL HR EUC REFUGEES
SUBJECT: DEPUTY PM UZELAC ASSURES PROGRESS WILL BE MADE ON
REFUGEE RETURN

ZAGREB 00000357 001.2 OF 002


1. SUMMARY: In an April 25 meeting with representatives of
the international community, recently appointed Deputy Prime
Minister Slobodan Uzelac promised significant progress in the
promotion of refugee returns in the immediate future.
Uzelac, the Croatian Serb minority party's representative in
the government, outlined the GoC's refugee return strategy,
to include resolution of previously stalled issues. The
meeting included the Deputy PM, the highest-level Croatian
official yet to assume direct responsibility for refugee
return issues, as well as other senior representatives of the
GOC, the EC, UNHCR, U.S. Embassy, and the Zagreb based office
of the OSCE. International participants were pleasantly
surprised as Uzelac unveiled his plan for providing housing
for an estimated 7,000 occupancy tenancy rights holders. In
addition, Uzelac plans to immediately institute an appeals
mechanism for those denied housing, quietly resolve the
thorny issue of convalidation of pensions, and personally
work to resolve legal cases of occupied agricultural land and
unsolicited investments by temporary occupants. The meeting
also marked the EC's assumption of the leading role on return
issues from the OSCE, as reflection that GoC performance in
implementing its plans will be part of their opening
negotiations on Chapter 23 (Judiciary and Fundamental Rights)
of the European Union Accession process. END SUMMARY

7000 CASES OF OCCUPANCY TENANCY RIGHTS HOLDERS TO BE RESOLVED
BY END OF 2009
----------------------------------------

2. At present, almost 7000 family applications from OTR
holders are either awaiting allocation of housing or court
decisions. During the April 25 meeting, State Secretary
Milivoj Mikulic, with the support of DPM Uzelac, announced
that the cases of 1,400 tenancy rights holding households
would be successfully processed by June 30, and that another
4,400 were expected to be processed by the end of 2009.
Uzelac further promised that, by September 2008,
reconstruction efforts would have begun on over 1000
apartments reserved for OTR holders in the cities of Vukovar,
Sisak, and Sibenik, and Zadar County. While meeting these
targets would not completely eliminate the problem of housing
for this vulnerable population of refugees, Uzelac estimated
that some 1,200 applicant households will be unreachable and
therefore should not be included in the overall targets.
These include some who have not responded to GOC letters or
requests for additional information, whose contact
information is not reliable, and even some who have died in
the intervening years.

APPEALS MECHANISM TO BE INSTITUTED
-------------------------------------

3. As part of an initiative to ensure fairness and
transparency in a notoriously bureaucratic and slow process,
Uzelac informed the group that an appellate procedure was
introduced in hopes of addressing over 850 negative decisions
awaiting appeal. Under the newly formed "Directorate for
Areas of Special State Concern" within the Ministry for
Regional Development, first instance administrative decisions
regarding applications to the housing care program will occur
at the local level, but can now also be appealed. While
second instance decisions will still occur within the same
ministry, the hearings are scheduled to occur in the capital
city of Zagreb by officials who were not involved in the
initial finding. As a further sign of good will, Uzelac
publicly invited the international community, in particular
the UNHCR, to assist in participating in the monitoring and
the review of individual cases as they work their way through
the new appeals structure. While the exact mechanism through
which the joint-review would occur remains undefined, Uzelac
confirmed that the appeals mechanism is ready to begin
operations in the weeks ahead.

CONVALIDATION OF PENSIONS TO QUIETLY BE RESOLVED (SBU)
--------------------------------------------- --------------

4. (SBU) Deputy Prime Minister Uzelac and his Minister of
Regional Development, Forestry and Water Management, Petar
Cobankovic, committed to intensely working to solve the
unresolved issue of convalidation of pensions in the next 30
days. In practice, crediting time worked towards retirement
will mean only a small increase of under $40 a month to most

ZAGREB 00000357 002.2 OF 002


Serb retirees' pensions. Representatives at the meeting were
told an "ordinance" resolving the problem of crediting years
of service in the former Serb Occupied Areas would quietly be
released in the immediate future. Uzelac asked the
international community representatives to keep this decision
quiet for now.

UNRESOLVED LEGAL CASES OF OCCUPIED AGRICULTURAL LAND AND
UNSOLICITED INVESTMENTS BY TEMPORARY OCCUPANTS
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. Uzelac optimistically promised to personally visit all
cases of occupied agricultural land and to investigate them
over the next 3 months. Uzelac further extended an invitation
to members of the international community to accompany him on
his initial fact finding visits. In addition, Uzelac
committed himself to fully mobilizing GOC resources to
resolve the 21 remaining "unsolicited investment" cases,
where temporary occupants had put money into the houses and
were now seeking reimbursement from the building's original
Serb owners.
Bradtke

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