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Bosnia: Cazin Struggles Against Reputation Of Political Violence

Cazin, Bosnia; 3 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - The attractive, prosperous, all-Muslim town of Cazin in northwestern Bosnia has the reputation of being one of the most politically violent communities in the former Yugoslav republic. But Bogic Bogicevic, a Bosnian Serb and former member of Yugoslavia's collective presidency, told RFE/RL in a recent interview that unrest in Cazin has subsided in the last two weeks.

Bogicevic, who heads the United List for Bosnia -- a left of center, civic-oriented anti-nationalist party -- held a well-attended, peaceful rally last Friday amid a heavy police presence. The RFE/RL correspondent on the scene reports that in a post-rally interview, Bogicevic said that people who think differently in Bosnia are declared "traitors" of the nation.

"It is enough to be a member of an opposition party to be pronounced an enemy of the state," Bogicevic said. "Fighting this concept is what the current election campaign is all about."

Cazin's violent image stems largely from a series of incidents over the last three months -- 24 in all. But some observers question whether all the violence -- including firebombings, shootings, and harassment, in which no one has been killed -- was all politically motivated, or whether some of it was related to a "settling of accounts" between organized-crime elements.

As one European Community monitor in the region puts it, the criticism of the situation in Cazin is blown out of proportion, and considerably less serious than ongoing violence between Croats and Muslims in Mostar, Bugojno and Donji Vakus, or between Serbs and Muslims around Brcko and Doboj. Rather, the subdivision of political parties in Cazin mirrors the town's social structures, with various groups fighting for power.

Two years ago, Bosnia's government army and rebel Muslims, led by charismatic local tycoon Fikret Abdic, fought for control of Cazin. Material destruction was minimal in the town where 95 percent of the population was Muslim, according to the 1991 census.

But Abdic's failed rebellion left a strong residue of intolerance within Bosnia's ruling Party for Democratic Action (SDA), which controlled Cazin and the rest of the Una-Sana region (canton).

Banners and posters, all in green letters and all sporting the Muslim crest and proclaiming it a patriotic duty to vote for SDA, are omnipresent in Cazin and all other communities in the region. Some SDA posters portray the emblem of the Bosnian army and its locally based Five Corps. A banner spanning the road in Cazin reads: "SDA; in one's own religion -- in one's own land."

Una-Sana region Governor Mirsad Beladzic told RFE/RL he is confident of overwhelming victory for the SDA in next week's local elections. Beladzic said citizens know and value what the SDA has done for them since the last elections six years ago. He said the SDA organized the Bosnian nation, built up its self-respect, ensured the nation's self-defense, campaigned for international recognition for Bosnia, and developed a program ensuring "a bright future for all the citizens of Bosnia."

Beladzic describes the opposition as young parties lacking experience and far weaker than they claim to be, but he adds, "everyone has the right to vote for whomever he wants."

Sead Toromanovic, head of former Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic's Party for Bosnia Herzegovina (SBIH) for the Una-Sana region, says the SDA is responsible for an atmosphere which he says prevented his party from being able to form local party councils in the key communities of Bosanski Petrovac, Kljuc, Buzim and Velika Kladusa.

With a little less than two weeks to go until Bosnia's first post-war national elections on September 14, international envoy Carl Bildt visited Cazin. He told local and regional officials of his dissatisfaction with the situation in Cazin, and the work of the local police. But the region's interior minister, while firing the local police chief, responded that the 24 reported incidents of violence were insufficient to draw any conclusions. He described perceptions of violence in Cazin as "exaggerated."

No politically related incidents have been reported since Bildt's visit.