In some areas of return, including Kordun, Banija, and the surroundings of Benkovac, numerous traditionally Serb villages lack access to electricity, in contrast to the Croat majority villages in the same area. The electricity grid in the villages was destroyed during the war. Serb villages are often poorly inhabited, so it may not always appear warranted to invest in their infrastructure. However, the small number of inhabitants in many Serb villages is to a significant extent a result of the poor infrastructure. There is evidence that the differing treatment of Serb and Croat villages has in some instances reflected discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity.
A report prepared by the Croatian Electrical Company (HEP) in April 2006 lists 137 (predominantly Serb) villages in Croatia without electricity.98 These villages are often close to Croat villages with electricity.
In the Benkovac area, the Croat village of Polača, for example, is a vibrant place with hundreds of newly built houses. Two kilometers away, two Serb villages belonging to the same municipality, Liane Tinjske and Jagodnja Gornja, stand in stark contrast. Although the government has recently reconstructed some forty houses in Liane Tinjske (there were 120 homes prior to the war), fewer than a dozen persons currently live in the village.99 Liane Tinjske does not have electricity, and half of the village does not have running water. The village is also littered with rubble from bricks, concrete, and other material from the houses destroyed in Polača during the war, which was transported to Liane Tinjske during Polačas reconstruction in the second half of the 1990s.100
In Jagodnja Gornja, two-thirds of the village does not have electricity, although returns to the village began in 1998 and more than twenty households are inhabited in the parts of the village without electricity.101 In the words of one resident:
The Croat hamlet of Ivkovići, in the village of Dobropoljci (near Benkovac) was connected to the electrical grid in 2002. The hamlet lies in the municipality of Liane Benkovačke. Connecting the hamlet involved extending the grid from the village of Brgud, some ten kilometers away.103 Yet the extension failed to connect the Serb-inhabited hamlets of Dobrići and Ponoa in the same village, where nine families live. Dobrići and Ponoa also lack a mains water supply.104
In the area of Plitvička Jezera, in the ethnically mixed village of Donji Vaganac, the Croat part of the village has electricity and water. The Serb part, located a few hundred meters away, lacks both, although eight or nine Serb households live there.105
Human Rights Watch inquired with the Croatian government as to the reason for the failure to connect Liane Tinjske, Jagodnja Gornja, Dobropoljci, and Donji Vaganac to the power grid. In a written response, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Traffic, Tourism and Development explained that the Croatian Electrical Company had not considered these villages a priority because of the high cost of connecting the households in these villages to the power grid. Jagodnja Gornja and Donji Vaganac figure among the villages to be connected to the grid during 2006, while electrification of Liane Tinjske and Dobropoljci is envisaged for 2007.106
Poor infrastructure affects the security situation. A number of incidents in 2005 (as the Ministry of Interior report for 2005 indicates) and 2006 occurred in the villages without electricity, where perpetrators, acting under cover of darkness, damaged the facades or windows of Serb houses, or broke in. Even where the primary motive is to steal rather than to intimidate, these incidents create a sense of insecurity among the Serb community. Places with electricity are usually more populated, which might also serve to deter perpetrators.
Up until 2004, the selection of the specific villages to be connected to the electricity grid in the respective year was made by the county offices of the state-owned HEP. Decisions were based on lists of priorities submitted by the local government,107 which is largely controlled by Croat parties. Since 2004, information from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Traffic, Tourism and Development on the number of houses reconstructed and envisaged for reconstruction in a given settlement has played a significant role in determining HEP priorities.108
With the current pace of electrification, it would take an additional six years to restore electricity to all settlements in areas of return.109 Stanko Janić, assistant minister in the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Traffic, Tourism and Development told Human Rights Watch in May 2006 that HEP had twice as much funds available than in the previous years, and that the government has decided to invest its part of the profit from HEPs activities into intensified electrification efforts. He said that in light of these changes the process might take two years to complete, instead of six.110 It is important that the Croatian government abide to such an expedited timetable.
98 On file with Human Rights Watch.
99 Human Rights Watch interview with M.L., Liane Tinjske, May 11, 2006. Another man, originally from Lianje Tinjske, is renting a house in the nearby regional center Zadar and occasionally visits his house in the village. He told Human Rights Watch that he would immediately return if the village was connected to the water supply system. He added, But without water, how could I live here? Human Rights Watch interview with S.D., Liane Tinjske, May 11, 2006.
100 Human Rights Watch interview with Glio Kolundić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Benkovac, May 11, 2006.
101 Human Rights Watch interview with S.G., Benkovac, May 11, 2006.
103 Human Rights Watch email communication with OSCE Field Office Zadar, June 6, 2006; Human Rights Watch interview with Slobodan Leajić, activist of the Serb Democratic Forum, Dobropoljci, May 11, 2006.
104 Human Rights Watch interview with Nenad Dobrić, local resident, Dobropoljci, May 11, 2006.
105 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Nikola Lalić, head of the office of the Serb Democratic Forum in Korenica, June 7, 2006.
106 Email communication with a spokesperson from the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Traffic, Tourism and Development, July 13, 2006.
107 Human Rights Watch interview with an officer in the OSCE Field Office Zadar, May 15, 2006.
108 Human Rights Watch interview with Stanko Janić, assistant minister of maritime affairs, traffic, tourism and development, Zagreb, May 8, 2006.
109 Electrification of the remaining villages would requite 300 million kuna (U.S.$52.1 million), and the average annual expenditure in the past years was 50 million. Human Rights Watch interview with Stanko Janić.