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Bonding In The Balkans

Still recovering from the trauma of war, a Bosnian town is being helped to rediscover its identity and shape a brighter future thanks to the reintroduction of football.
A spray of bullet holes marks a town centre wall, a graveyard sits precariously atop a hill and a chunk of a bridge bombed by NATO forces lies submerged in the blue waters of the River Drina. Twelve years after the end of the Bosnian conflict, there remains little physical evidence of the horrors that occurred in Foca.
Yet this pretty little town, 70 kilometres south-east of Sarajevo, was ravaged during the war, leaving its people geographically divided and psychologically scarred. The country’s division into the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb Republika Srpska has meant youngsters from ethnic groups are now seldom given the opportunity to meet.
The revival of an old tradition could, however, change all that. Featuring an 11-a-side U-17 competition and a two-a-side boy-girl U-l 6 street football event, “Football Friends Foca 07″ brought together a new generation between 11 and 13 May this year. For the first time in more than a decade, Muslim and Serb children ran by the town’s pine trees, along its river banks and up into its forests.
“It all began three years ago. I was born in Foca and before the war I used to watch the big youth tournament here where the different regions would play against each other,” says Zoran Avramovic, President of Belgrade-based foundation Football Friends and director of Red Star Belgrade’s sports marketing agency.