BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Croats and Muslims in this Serbian-held city in northern Bosnia are being forcibly evicted from their homes in acts of revenge by some of more than 100,000 Serbian refugees who fled their territory in Croatia last weekend in a rout by Croatian forces, relief officials said yesterday.
A Roman Catholic bishop said in an interview here that gangs of armed Serbian refugees had hunted down Croats in Muslim neighborhoods in the city, threatening to kill the occupants if they did not leave immediately.
The number of expulsions was difficult to estimate, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Bishop Franjo Komarica said that at least 1,000 Croatian and Muslim families had been pushed out of their homes and that the number was growing rapidly.
The expulsions are among the first repercussions that minorities were experiencing from the tide of Serbian refugees sweeping across Bosnia and into Serbia from Krajina, the formerly Serbian-held territory in Croatia.
Those Serbian refugees who chose to stay in Banja Luka and not move on to Serbia are being used by the Bosnian Serb authorities to continue their policies of "ethnic cleansing," the bishop said.
"Refugees are being used by the politicians to perpetuate perfidious ethnic cleansing," he said. "The refugees are going from street to street and village to village exercising triple pressure."
The intimidation included immediate eviction at gunpoint, refugees demanding to take over rooms in Croatian or Muslim houses, and the presentation of papers from county officials authorizing expulsion within days, Bishop Komarica said.
His own 84-year-old mother had been forced out of her house with her 60-year-old daughter last week, he said.
As he spoke, Bosnian Croats came to the front door of the bishop's home, describing threats they had received at gunpoint and asking for shelter.
One of them showed the bishop a written threat from a newly formed association of refugees from Krajina that was addressed to his village of Kulasi, 25 miles east of Banja Luka.
It read: "Muslims and Croats, we are now among our own people. What are those of you who are not in the Bosnian Serb army waiting for. We will move into your houses. Go peacefully, tomorrow may be too late."
For several years, the Banja Luka municipality of about 150,000 people has been one of the areas where Bosnian Serbs had tried hardest to push out Croats and Muslims who are minorities here.
About 12,000 Croats and 12,000 Muslims are left in Banja Luka, according to figures from relief officials.
All of the 16 mosques were destroyed in 1993, and Muslims were systematically thrown out of their homes and demoted in their jobs, according to a report by the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade, Serbia's capital.
The new wave of expulsions was the latest effort to clear the area of non-Serbs, the bishop said, defiantly adding that the Bosnian Serbs could kill him rather than force him to move from the area where his family had lived for 500 years.
The Croat with the written expulsion order, who was an officer in the Bosnian Serb army and who said he had been drafted, said there were about 500 Croats in Kulasi.
He said the refugees had pointedly excluded officers like him from their threats.
"But if they kill my mother and my wife I will go, too. If they force everyone in the village to go we will all go to Croatia," he said.