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Balkan Report: April 15, 1998

15 April 1998, Volume 2, Number 15

Banja Luka Mayor Vetoes Mosque Reconstruction. Mayor Djordje Umicevic of Banja Luka has turned down a recent call by the international community's Carlos Westendorp to rebuild the Ferhadija mosque, which Serbs blew up in May 1993, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The sixteenth-century Ferhadija was one of two historic Banja Luka mosques registered with UNESCO as an important cultural property and one of 16 mosques that stood in the city before Serbian paramilitaries "ethnically cleansed" it of all but a few thousand of its Muslims -- and all of its mosques.

Umicevic wrote Westendorp on April 13 that to rebuild the mosque would be a "deep humiliation for the Serbian people." The mayor called the place of worship a "monument to the cruel Turkish occupation" of Bosnia, and added that its reconstruction would "reawaken memories of the worst days of [Serbian] slavery" under the Ottomans. "If the international community wants to establish peace and help reconciliation in Bosnia, it should stop insulting the Serbian people," Umicevic concluded.

Serbs Leave Kosova for Bosnia. Elisabeth Rehn, who heads the UN mission in Bosnia, said in Helsinki on April 8 that Kosovar Serbs have begun to flee the troubled province and come to Bosnia. She added that "Kosova will affect us, [it] is already affecting us. We cannot really take more refugees into Bosnia." She did not say how many people have arrived or when they began to come. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, for his part, told "Le Monde" of April 8 that the Bosnian refugee problem requires a regional solution. He stressed that Muslims and Croats will have the possibility of returning to their homes only when the Krajina Serbs now living in those houses are able to go back to Croatia.

Chirac Visit Sparks Controversy. French President Jacques Chirac met with the three members of the Bosnian joint presidency in Sarajevo on April 7: Alija Izetbegovic, Kresimir Zubak and Momcilo Krajisnik. Among other things, Chirac said that Paris will work with its allies to ensure that Kosova is spared the violence that tore Bosnia apart from 1992 to 1995. He urged Bosnia's Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian leaders to work together in the spirit of reconciliation as the French and Germans learned to do after World War II, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. Later in Mostar, Chirac added that France will help finance the ongoing reconstruction of the historic Mostar bridge, which Croatian gunners destroyed in 1993.

Izetbegovic told "Le Monde" that Chirac's election as president marked a welcome turnaround in France's policy toward Bosnia. Izetbegovic said that Bosnians had been disappointed by Paris' previous policy, which he described as "a long hesitation that was regarded here as indifference." Many Muslim and Croat leaders during the war openly accused Paris and London of having a pro-Serbian bias.

But on April 6, Ejup Ganic, who is the president of the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation, said that Western leaders come to Sarajevo primarily to seek "therapy" for themselves and their political careers. He charged that France "did not do much for Bosnia before the Dayton agreement" was signed at the end of 1995. Ganic added that during the war the French stood by and "witnessed the genocide" in the embattled republic. He stressed that the French government must let French officers and other officials testify freely before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal if Paris wants to show its good faith to Sarajevo.

Albanian President Lauds Role of Religious Communities. Rexhep Meidani praised the role of all religious communities "on the Albanian people's road towards spiritual revival and material progress" on the Muslim holiday of Kurban Bajram on April 7. He added that the religious communities "are close to the people, [and stand] above the political parties." Meidani made the statements while visiting Haxhi Hafiz Sabri Koci, who is the head of Albania's Sunni community. The president added that "the people and nation are eternal, while the parties and their interests are temporary." Meidani stressed that "our joint efforts for the Albanians to leave behind the evil of a year ago, in the name of peace and understanding, for the country's stability and consolidation, are also indispensable for the solution of our national issue" (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 25 March 1998).