Trouble in Bočinja
A local official in the central Bosnian village of Bočinja told BH Press this week that SFOR had established checkpoints here, put up barbed wire fences and taken over an area school following clashes with mudjahadeen or Islamic fighters.
"All the problems must be solved without physical conflicts, and conditions must be created for the pre-war inhabitants to return to Bočinja," said Maglaj Municipal Council President Dževad Galijašević.
The mudjahadeen, most of them from Bosnia but dozens of them from Arabic countries, are either refusing to leave the village so that the original Serb residents can return, or are wreaking havoc before they do leave. Mudjahadeen leader Abu Hamza was one of the handful of people arrested for helping destroy the village's Cultural Centre-cum-mosque as a parting shot.
The papers did not say which country Abu Hamza hails from, but foreign mudjahadeen in Bosnia are generally from middle-eastern countries and Sudan, and came to fight for the Bosnian Muslim government during the war. When the war ended, many of them stayed. They married local women and have citizenship—but are not always welcome. More secular Muslims here are dismayed that the mudjahadeen are bringing their own brand of Saudi-style Islam to Bosnia. And in the Bočinja case, the mudjahadeen are occupying houses that Serbs owned before the war.
Bočinja first received attention in July 2000, when the local and foreign mudjahadeen staged protests against being evicted. Confrontations with SFOR and the International Police Task Force (IPTF) died down after a few days and the evictions began. But, as is often the case when people are evicted here against their will, they destroyed or vandalised the houses they'd been staying in.
This week, Oslobodenje reported that Bočinja residents who had remained were joined Tuesday by about 300 mudjahadeen, who, "after ritually slaughtering a sheep and painting themselves in its blood," began the protests anew. SFOR told the paper they had moved in after a lukewarm response from the local police.
Galijašević said the municipality had no prior knowledge that SFOR would take control of the situation, and that the ritual slaughter and blood painting was definitely not a normal Bosniak Muslim custom.
The main headline in Sarajevo daily Jutarnje Novine Friday was, "Italian soldiers died and SFOR claims NATO bombs are innocent." This was sparked by the recent leukemia deaths of six Italian soldiers who had served in either Bosnia or Kosovo during NATO bombing campaigns. Both bombardments (in Bosnia in 1995 and in Serbia and Kosovo in 1999) used shells made of depleted uranium.
Media outside the area quickly dubbed the soldiers' cancers "Balkans Syndrome," and blamed NATO. Media inside the area lowed suit. And if soldiers who only serve months-long tours of duty were at risk, then it could mean a health risk for civilians who live here as well. But SFOR waved away those fears, saying the depleted uranium shells were relatively harmless.
Jutarnje quoted SFOR spokesperson Bob Thompson as saying that NATO's main headquarters stated that using ammunition containing depleted uranium does not carry any medical risk for the health of the civilian population.
"Besides that," Thompson said, "the International Committee for Protection from Radiation has not placed this ammunition on the list of radioactive objects, using the justification that its radioactivity is 40 per cent less than that of natural uranium. Because of that, SFOR cannot believe that these soldiers, who served in SFOR or in the local population, were exposed to radiation because of the use of this ammunition."
End of payment bureaux
About 30 commercial banks in BiH took over the job of the old Zavod za Platni Promet (ZPP, or Payment Bureau) Friday. The Payment Bureau was sort of a single main bank for all companies operating in the country. For example, all companies' earnings went into the Bureau, and to pay salaries or bills, they had to withdraw money from the same Bureau. The Communist authorities created it as kind of a financial Big Brother. Since the old system fell apart about ten years ago, the ZPP no longer had any function besides having a monopoly on all financial transactions.
But just because the monopoly is dead, does not mean bank users will see lower costs. BH Press reported Wednesday that the commercial banks are passing on what they perceive as high taxes for their services to consumers.
"We are surprised by the prices the business banks have announced," Central Bank governor Peter Nicholl told the agency, adding that the internationally backed Central Bank will definitely intervene later if prices for services did not come down.
Illegal immigration continues
Gradiška and international police caught 20 Iranians trying to illegally cross into Croatia on Wednesday night, Banja Luka's Nezavisne Novine reported on Friday.
"They had the intention to continue travelling towards some other European countries like asylum-seekers," said Gradiška Public Safety head Dragoljub Novakovič.
This border crossing, about 30 km north of Banja Luka, is not the only one to have problems with people trying to illegally pass into Western Europe. BiH's semi-porous borders must be legendary given the frequent IPTF reports concerning immigration-related arrests. Last summer several Iranians drowned trying to cross into Croatia via the Sava River. BiH authorities and the international community are only now addressing the problem. The BiH Border Service started functioning in summer 2000, and over the holidays the Bosnian government introduced a new visa regime for citizens of Iran.
Sometimes what is not in the papers can give readers some enlightenment. Usually, by this time of year, the Sarajevo papers include a daily skiing update, showing how many metres of snow are covering the ski hills of Jahorina, Bijelašnica and Igman, all within a few minutes' drive from town. But ski aficionados are agreeing that this year is a travesty. Not only is there no snow, but high temperatures (it was ten degrees Celsius every day this week in Sarajevo) are making it feel more like March than January. And the forecast predicts only rain...
Beth Kampschror, 8 January 2001
- Archive of Bosnian news reviews
- Browse through the CER eBookstore
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page
- Return to CER front page