Fears for peace deal as Mostar tensions mount

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Mostar's "top man" - or so he was introduced by the chat-show host before his television interview on Friday night - was unyielding, dressed all in black and uttering dark threats. "This will be Croatia," Mladen Misic boasted. "There will be a war if necessary."

Another war, Mr Misic, commander of Bosnian Croat militia in Mostar, should have said. Language like this and, more important, the string of shootings along the city's front line in the past week have pricked the uneasy peace reigning in Mostar since March 1994 and raised tensions to the most dangerous levels since the European Union began to administer the city 18 months ago.

Two people have been killed and two more seriously wounded since New Year's Eve, when tensions in the divided city of Mostar surged dangerously with the fatal shooting by Bosnian Croat police of a Muslim youth who ran into a road-block on the western - Croat - side of town. Four days later, two Bosnian policemen driving to work along the Bulevar, a wide, ravaged street that marks the front line, were hit by a hail of bullets fired from the west side.

"A lot of people are scared - I also feel something of a war atmosphere," said Faruk Kejtaz, a journalist at Radio Mostar, on the shattered government- held east bank of the swollen Neretva River. "Many don't want to talk about it - it's a very fiery situation."

Yesterday, some 500 Croats huddled through driving rain for the funeral of Zeljko Ljucic, a policeman shot dead on the Bulevar on Saturday, this time by fire from the east. "He was shot down by cowards," said the priest as an elderly man wept beside him, cradled in the arms of a younger man.

Many - and not only those Muslims living on the east bank who fought a vicious 10-month-war for Mostar - fear the shootings are more than a string of unrelated incidents. "Why else do they all involve policemen?" asked one foreign observer.

"My hope is that it is isolated incidents," said Hans Koschnik, the German appointed by the EU to oversee the reunification of Mostar. He paused. "The feeling may be otherwise." His task is to fulfill the requirements of the Dayton agreement that pertain to Mostar: the creation of a new city statute, freedom of movement across the city for all by 21 January.

But he knows that while senior Bosnian Croat officials signed the Dayton deal, they also seek to rewrite it. "The real problem is they have to give up 'Herzeg-Bosna' [the self-styled Croat statelet in western Bosnia] on 21 January," he said. "The discussion about the unification of the police in Mostar stopped on 30 December."

The young man who was killed on New Year's Eve, named only as Alen, was 17 and therefore of military age. He crossed into west Mostar illegally with three friends - apparently to visit his girlfriend - and refused to stop for a police foot patrol. They fired, and he was killed. Several hundred attended his funeral in east Mostar, too.

Mr Koschnik believes the presence of Nato troops from the peace implementation force (I-For) will stave off a second descent into war. "But I'm not saying 'no' to more incidents, fighting, maybe sniping," he added.

And he admits that the deployment along the Bulevar of five Spanish armoured personnel carriers, and the temporary suspension of civilian crossings from one bank to the other, is a victory for "extremists". Some in east Mostar believe that was the aim all along. "That's what they want: for I-For to deploy along the front line," said Senad Efica, a radio journalist: to divide the city once and for all.

t Banja Luka - the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic attacked the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and called for the recovery of Serb- held districts around Sarajevo by political means, Reuter reports.