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VERONA, Italy (Reuters Life!) - Alija Lizde spent five months in military prison camps in 1993. His only crime was being a Bosnian Muslim, but that was enough for the Bosnian Croat military police.
Now Lizde heads a small wine-making cooperative in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina where he works with six Croats and a Serb to revive ancient regional wine traditions -- and help him forget the horrors of the 1992-95 war which tore apart Yugoslavia and devastated Bosnia.
"Working in a vineyard is like therapy, it helps a lot (to forget about the war). We all could use a bit of therapy in our country," Lizde told Reuters at the Vinitaly wine fair where he presented the first wine made by his cooperative.
The Vino-Daorson winery project, funded by Italy's foreign ministry and backed by Italian non-government organization CEFA, started up in 2009. It harvested its first grapes from vineyards near Mostar last year.
Lizde, who is also a director of the Stari Most radio station, said wine-making has become a passion in his life. He spends more and more time in the vineyards and in the winery.
"It helps to leave all stress behind," said the 48-year-old Lizde, who was a witness at the U.N. war crimes trials of former Bosnian Croat leaders.
Working in the vineyards with Croats and Serbs, enemies during the war, has not been a problem for Lizde. His partners in the cooperative were equally open-minded, he said.
"We have recreated a little Yugoslavia," Lizde said with a smile and speaking through an interpreter.
The first harvest produced about 20,000 liters (4,399 Imp gallons) of wine -- a Pinnes Zilavka white and a Pinnes Blatina red -- which go on sale this year.
If the wine is a success its output can be raised up to 60,000 liters a year, said Alberto Moia, CEFA's humanitarian officer working on the project.
The wine is meant for the local market in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it drew interest at the Vinitaly fair, and producers may consider selling it abroad, possibly in Germany where there is a sizeable Bosnian community, Moia said.
Made from native Herzegovina grapes Zilavka and Blatina, the wine aims to revive a local wine-making tradition which dates back some 2,000 years, Moia said.
The Vino-Daorson cooperative still needs to work on improving the quality, under the supervision of prominent Italian oenologist Leonardo Valenti, Lizde said.
It will take a few years for the business to become profitable, he said. But he is also looking beyond profits toward the healing benefits of the project.
"All of us have suffered from the war. Some people will understand it (that it is possible to work together) quicker, others who suffered more will probably take longer ... I think ours can be a very good example for other people," he said.
Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Paul Casciato