Muslim turns against Muslim in Bihac battle

Click to follow
VELIKA KLADUSA, Bosnia - Take a local power-hungry tycoon, a hard-nosed military commander, and a fleet of buses to ferry the forces around. Stir in propaganda, plum brandy and bullets, and you have the ingredients for Bosnia's most bizarre battleground, the north-west 'Bihac pocket' where Muslim is fighting Muslim.

'Do you have any idea what is going on?' asked Rasim Muric-Rale, the director of a radio station in Cazin, in the centre of the enclave surrounded by Serbs where at least five people have been killed in the fratricidal clashes. 'No? Well, we don't either. Not really,' he said when a foreign journalist replied with a shrug.

On one side are the 'loyalists' - troops of the Bosnian army Fifth Corps, ordered by President Alija Izetbegovic to put down the rebellion against his fractured rule. They are led by Ramiz Drekovic, a giant of a man who proudly gives his rank as 'Captain, First Class, in the old Yugoslav army'.

On the other side are the 'rebels' - police and two breakaway Fifth Corps brigades who have sided with Fikret Abdic, who has used his business links with Serbs and Croats to keep Bihac well supplied and relatively free of war. He is the region's biggest employer and 'president' of the 'Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia', which he declared in the enclave bordering Croatia last week.

Soldiers on both sides wear the same uniforms. Civilian supporters on both sides travel to demonstrations in buses marked Agrokomerc, the name of Mr Abdic's food processing empire.

United Nations sources said the commander of UN forces in Bosnia, General Francis Briquemont, went to the enclave yesterday to try to halt the fighting that has not only divided the region in two - with Mr Abdic's forces squeezed into the northern district of Velika Kladusa - but has also erected a barrage of fear in both camps.

Propaganda and wild rumour, one of the deadliest weapons in Bosnia's war, have done their work here well. Mr Abdic's supporters call Captain Drekovic's men, battle- hardened soldiers from the front lines, Muslim fundamentalists high on drugs. Army officials say Mr Abdic is more interested in business than the continuation of the Bosnian state.

Others have a simpler explanation for what is going on. 'This,' said one bemused Fifth Corps soldier, 'is the Balkans.'

ZAGREB - New visa restrictions stranded 220 Bosnian Muslims who sold everything they owned to flee from Serb-held northern Bosnia for Norway, UN officials said yesterday, Reuter reports.

Norway's introduction of visas for Bosnians on 1 October closed one of the Muslims' few remaining escape routes and left them in dangerous limbo, said Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.