Bosnia strips citizenship from Muslim fighters

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The Independent Online

When Bosnia was being carved up between Serbian and Croatian militias and the West's involvement was limited to sending "peacekeepers" to watch it happen, volunteers from the Islamic world were the only force fighting alongside the Bosniacs to keep the Muslim-majority state intact.

They came from Turkey, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, and were rewarded with Bosnian nationality by the government of Ali Isetbegovic. But now the government is to strip hundreds of the former mujahedin of their nationality and send them back to their countries of origin, even though they are no longer citizens there.

The Bosnian parliament has adopted a law empowering a commission to investigate naturalisations effected between the outbreak of war in April 1992 and January 2006. It is looking into the cases of 1,500 people, and has already stripped citizenship from 488 of them. Decisions may be appealed against, but if the appeal is lost, deportation is automatic.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Bosnian branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights have all written to the Bosnian government protesting against the action and urging it not to proceed with the deportations, warning that those deported face possible arrest on their return to their countries of origin.

The head of the commission, Vjekoslav Vukovic, insisted that the process was based strictly on legal criteria. "We look at a lot of the documentation from that time," he said. "We look at empty files, we find false documents, false records."

He said that even if deportees lost their appeals, they had the right to reapply for Bosnian residency from their countries of origin. But those who face being uprooted from the homes they have made with local women were in no doubt that pressure from the United States was behind the purge. "They are being expelled because they're Arabs, because they're Muslims, and they came here to help us," said Mustafa Ceric, the leader of Bosnia's Muslims.

But there are tensions with the local population. "According to normal people we didn't need them, even during wartime," Mirsad Fazlic, a local journalist, told the BBC. "And we specially don't need them now."