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Bosnian Serbs Told To Pay $42 Million For Burnt Mosques

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) -- The authorities of the Bosnian Serb controlled town Banja Luka must pay $42 million to its Islamic community for 16 local mosques destroyed during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, a local magistrate ruled on February 20.

The court ruling comes eight years after local Muslims filed the first case in Bosnia in which a religious community sought joint reparation for wartime damages.

The Islamic community's lawyer Esad Hrvacic said the verdict was of "historic importance" and hoped it would not be appealed.

"We expect that the authorities will meet their obligations in a dignified manner and take over the responsibility and correct the past mistakes," Hrvacic told Reuters.

"The most important is the fact that the Serb Republic has for the first time acknowledged the responsibility for the destruction of religious objects during the war," Hrvacic said.

Bosnian Serb authorities were not available for comment.

In the 1992-1995 war mosques, including the 15th century Arnaudija and 16th century Ferhadija, were blown up and torched during overnight curfews.

Bosnian Serbs supported by the Serb-dominated army of ex-Yugoslavia, undertook a widespread ethnic cleansing campaign of Bosnian Muslims and Croats to secure lands for their own state, and scores of religious buildings were destroyed.

The Ferhadija Mosque, regarded as one of the finest outside the Arab world, was on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and is being rebuilt.

The lawsuit over the destruction of Banja Luka mosques was filed in 2000, but proceedings were initiated in 2007 after a constitutional court order.

Hrvacic argued that Banja Luka authorities tried to conceal traces of destruction and even removed the mosques from Banja Luka master plans to prevent their reconstruction.

The Bosnian war ended after the 1995 Dayton peace accord, leaving the country as an international protectorate and divided between two entities, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation.