MIHOLJSKO, Croatia - A lost tribe of Muslim refugees, unwanted by any side in the Bosnian war, are preparing for a cruel winter in a shanty town of plastic and pine branches. An estimated 25,000 people, gathered here Sunday, are all that remains of the "Abdic Muslims," who rebelled against the mainly Muslim government in Sarajevo three years ago and threw in their lot with tycoon Fikret Abdic and Bosnia's rebel Serbs. They were defeated by a joint Croat and Bosnian government offensive which overran their northwest Bosnia stronghold of Velika Kladusa in the first week of August. They fled and wound up here in a lonely stretch of country road in a damp valley in eastern Croatia. They have made it their temporary home, as best they can. Stuck on the doorstep of a homeland that spurns them as traitors, in a country that wants to be rid of them, they live in a scene from the last century, a raw settlement like the Wild West. Wreaths of pungent woodsmoke drift over their camp, a jumble of crude dwellings stretching five miles along a twisting backroad. The poorest sleep in hovels of bent saplings and plastic. Some live high-and-dry in the backs of trucks, and the better off have managed to acquire rough timbers to build huts with floors. "I'm making this stove here with some old bricks I bought and some clay from the earth," says one young father. Semsadin Dzehverovic, 24, is readying for winter in a tiny wooden hut with his wife and two small children. He will hack wood in the forest to burn in his brick stove. "We have to prepare," the former pop-music drummer says. The camp already has a small graveyard. There is a barber shop made of planks and not much bigger than a coffin, where men lean back in a rickety chair to be shaved with straight razors.This is a horse-drawn community. They trot up and down in pairs pulling the low wooden carts or they stamp, steam and munch hay in makeshift stables. There is blood-darkened earth under a trestle where cattle hung up for slaughter and yellow mud under a rickety "toilet" perched above a tiny stream. The toilets are no more than wood and cloth screens around holes in the ground. "Dysentery is a problem. The water is bad," says paramedic Asim Velic. The camp has a canvas hospital of a dozen tents and medical stations deployed along the ribbon of shacks. The United Nations refugee agency now brings clean water in tankers and there is a mail system of carboard-box "drops" run by the international Red Cross. Money handouts from relatives in Germany and Austria are all some of these people have. Alone among hundreds of thousands of refugees put to flight in Croatia and Bosnia in the past two months, these families are unforgiven, with literally nowhere to go to. For a while, under the leadership of agro-business millionaire Abdic, and allied with the seemingly all-powerful Bosnian Serb Army, they held the upper hand. They were fed, paid and comfortably housed in Abdic territory while Muslims loyal to the government were under siege and starving in the embattled Bihac enclave. Now they are defeated. Croatia does not want these people, and they are too scared to accept Sarajevo's amnesty. Abdic has made himself scarce. Many are men of fighting age, including scores of wounded fighters. Strangely, virtually all remain loyal to Abdic. "But it is impossible to stay here in the winter. This valley land will flood, and the Croatian police won't allow us to go up into the hillsides," says Velic. "Men who go out of bounds risk being arrested and handed over to (the Bosnian Army) 5th Corps," he adds. "Yet I wouldn't go back yet to Velika Kladusa. Not under these circumstances. I wouldn't feel safe," he says, in a comment echoed up and down the straggling settlement. For the moment, in cool early fall weather, morale seems intact. There are plank "cafes" with raki, cola and Bosnian music blaring from radios. Hundreds of children play in the meadow, oblivious of their predicament. "You want to know why we're cheerful?" asks a gap-toothed waitress in one stall. "Because this isn't much, but it's surely better than getting shot at."