Return of Turkish troops to Bosnia enrages Serbs

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The Independent Online
ISLAMIC fundamentalism was in short supply in Zenica yesterday as 1,500 Turkish troops, descendants of Bosnia's Ottoman rulers, arrived in the government-held town to begin peace-keeping.

Despite a dramatic reaction from Serbs and Greeks to Turkish deployment - the Bosnian Serbs threatened to shoot on sight - the soldiers' reception was friendly but muted. As the column of armoured vehicles rolled into Zenica a few passers-by waved, but most continued to stroll or drink at pavement cafes. Children begged for sweets - as they do with any United Nations convoy.

'It is a very good thing they have arrived,' Ibrahim Oruc, a Bosnian soldier said. 'This thing has gone too far . . . we need the UN to stop the fighting so we can start to live normally and end this madness.' A young man, Nazir Bejedic, said: 'It's about time somebody on our side came here. I'm happy people with the crescent moon and star are coming here.' Other Bosnian Muslims were happy to see the Turks. But they hope for peace, not holy war.

Jihad is, however, on the minds of several dozen foreign mujahedin camped on a hillside outside Zenica; they can be seen driving through Zenica, hanging out of minibus windows brandishing Kalashnikovs and praising Allah. One mild-mannered young man said he arrived in Zenica a week ago and announced: 'I'm here for a jihad.' This sort of attitude is not popular with most people.

'These criminals and hooligans should be strung up,' said one Bosnian soldier. 'The Muslims here are not Turks, they are European people,' Sead Kamencanin said.

'I doubt the Turks will help us . . . but we would like some ammunition and weapons from them.'

Colonel Mehmet Erdogan, the Turkish commander, is keen to quash any such hopes, emphasising the impartiality of his troops and their allegiance to the blue UN flag. As for the legacy of 500 years of Ottoman rule in the Balkans, the Colonel said that 'The historical aspect of that issue . . . must be forgotten.' He is aware of the sensitive nature of the deployment. Colonel Erdogan, a former military attache in Belgrade, speaks Serbo-Croat, as do a few of his soldiers.

They are the descendants of Muslims who left Bosnia for Turkey. This talent 'will come in extremely handy', said Brigadier Andrew Ridgway, the British UN commander in the region.

Local Serbs seem most concerned about the Turkish deployment. 'There is no need for them here,' complained Sreto Janusic. 'Zenica is the centre of Islam . . . I am afraid (the Turks and the Bosnian army) will be together against the Serbs.'

'I'm afraid I will have to wear the veil,' said Jasmina Krajisnik, a young woman selling wild strawberries in Zenica market. 'I think the Turks and mujahedin have the same thing on their minds.'

But the fact that both Serbs aired their opinions freely in public says a lot for the liberal way of life in Zenica, where women wear mini-skirts and sunbathe on the banks of the River Bosna.

The Turkish UN troops in Zenica have a delicate role to play; it is appropriate that their base camp lies between the headquarters of the Bosnian Army and a small factory flying a black flag that is home to the mujahedin.

(Map omitted)

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