RS leaders under pressure
Bosnia's top international envoy told Republika Srpska (RS) leaders Friday that the international community expects them not only to find and punish those behind this week's violent riots in the RS, but to make sweeping changes in the entity.
"I told them very clearly that they bear responsibility for the outbreak of violence in Banja Luka and Trebinje," High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch told a press conference in Sarajevo. "They, the leadership of the RS, have never demonstrated leadership against extremism, never supported the rebuilding of mosques, never forcefully dealt with hundreds of return-related incidents, and never condemned publicly the war crimes committed in the RS during the war."
Petritsch said RS President Mirko Šarović, Vice-president Dragan Čavić, Prime Minister Mladen Ivanić and RS National Assembly Speaker Dragan Kalinić now know that the international community expects them to:
- begin government programs on democratisation, reconciliation and police education
- face up to RS war crimes and co-operate with The Hague tribunal
- publicly support the construction of the memorial and cemetery in Srebrenica
- distance themselves from war criminals, and actively engage local authorities to arrest those at large (RS authorities have not made a single arrest yet)
- actively support refugee returns
- fully support BiH common institutions
- form a high level multi-ethnic group to create reconciliation and reform strategies.
Riots in RS
The tough words came following two violent riots in the RS that disrupted ceremonies marking the rebuilding of mosques destroyed during the war. In the southeast, in the RS town of Trebinje, a crowd of a hundreds-strong Serb mob beat an Office of High Representative (OHR) official and a Bosnian journalist last Saturday, thus scrapping plans to lay a cornerstone for a mosque. In Banja Luka, the situation was even worse on Monday.
A cornerstone ceremony for the Ferhadija Mosque was mobbed by thousands of Serbs who threw rocks, burned buses and trapped several hundred officials and Muslim visitors in the Islamic Community Center for six hours. Thirty people were injured. While BH-TV and OBN-TV ran the Banja Luka incidents as their top stories Tuesday night, Republika Srpska-TV led with a hand grenade attack on a Serbian Orthodox Church that caused minimal damage, and then went into the Banja Luka violence.
Counterprotests in Sarajevo Tuesday night drew thousands of Muslim nationalists into the streets. No one was hurt, but word around town was, "It's just like 1992."
Petritsch said such a comparison was not correct. "Although I understand such thoughts and fears, I would like to tell everybody that this is not 1992; nor will we, the international community, allow it to become 1992," he said. "It is the clear opinion of the international community that these are the last attempts of unreformed hard-liners, ultra-nationalists and extremists to stem the wave and tide of normalisation and maintain their dream of mono-ethnic, chauvinist, criminal environment in which they thrive by nature."
14 people have been charged with involvement in the Banja Luka incidents, and the courts in the town have handed down sentences ranging from one week to one month in prison.
In the press
Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine did a mini-poll on Thursday, asking people about who they thought was responsible for the violence. Sarajevo taxi driver Sulejman Hadžiahmetović said, "Everything is the fault of the SDS [the Serb Democratic Party], they are still the leading party in the RS." Metalworker Miroslav Trifunović from Kotor Varoš said, "Everyone is guilty, but first of all foreigners and the RS government, because they allowed this shame to be brought upon Banja Luka. The right to build religious buildings for all three nations should be the same."
Sarajevo papers reported Thursday that the United States government will close down its offices in Banja Luka indefinitely, and has issued a travel warning for its citizens against going to the town.
One Oslobođenje writer despaired at the international community's do-nothing-ness when it comes to these kinds of incidents. "It makes me wonder whether the international community lives here at all," wrote Angelina Simić Tuesday. "They did not protect the cornerstone and they did not make the ceremony safe. The reactions will certainly be full of words such as 'appeal' or 'horrified,' but, after five years, there is still no religious or ethnic tolerance."
The Federation House of Peoples Wednesday said that SDS, which has controlled Serb areas for the past ten years, was to blame, and asked the OHR to ban the party—the paper reported Thursday.
BiH Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdžija told both BiH Houses of Parliament that their session Thursday should send a message to BiH citizens to not be afraid, because 1992 would not repeat itself.
"There is no collective guilt, there are only guilty people who have committed these acts," he was quoted in Dnevni Avaz Friday. "I was in Banja Luka as the head of the SDP, as a Bosniak, as a citizen of BiH, as the foreign minister. This parliament needs to send a clear message about the obligatory reconstruction of all destroyed religious buildings."
Beth Kampschror, 11 May 2001
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