Mostar tense after second Croat attack on Muslims

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The Independent Online



Mostar - The shooting of two Muslim policemen sent ethnic tension soaring in the divided city of Mostar yesterday and a European Union administrator appealed for calm, saying dialogue, not Nato intervention, was vital.

"It would be a lie if I said I had everything under control but I hope that serious people will understand how dangerous the situation is," said Hans Koschnick, the EU administrator in Mostar, south Bosnia.

"Do not throw oil on the fire. We are trying to calm things down but we are not in a good situation," he said.

He was speaking after a hail of bullets from the Croat sector of the city hit a Muslim police car on Thursday night, seriously wounding two officers inside. One was hit in the stomach, the other in the leg.

Mr Koschnick, who leads an EU administration set up in 1994 after a Croat- Muslim war devastated the historic city, said the solution to Mostar's problems had to be civilian and not imposed by the Nato-led Bosnian peace implementation force (I-For).

"There is no need to involve I-For in the situation in Mostar. People must get together in a democratic way and by talking build understanding for the future," he said.

The EU has been trying to form a joint administration uniting the Muslim and Croat communities, who face each other across a "confrontation line". It also wants to start reconstruction of Mostar, once one of Yugoslavia's top tourist attractions.

But tensions have risen since Bosnian Croat police shot dead a Muslim youth on New Year's Day, an incident which Mr Koschnick described as murder or manslaughter. "I do not consider it to have been an accident," he said.

A series of less serious incidents culminated in Thursday's shooting on the Bulevar, a once-elegant boulevard now in ruins which forms part of the confrontation line.

Police run by the Western European Union (WEU), the EU's defence arm, were investigating the case of the policemen. "Thank God one of them at least is no longer in danger of losing his life," said Mr Koschnick, a former mayor of Bremen.

"The shots clearly came from the west [Croat] side. Now it must be established who fired them," he said, adding that 10 to 12 rounds had peppered the car.

The shooting occurred hours after the Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, met his Bosnian counterpart, Alija Izetbegovic, in Sarajevo for talks on a Croat-Muslim federation created in 1994. The US-brokered federation, to share rule in Bosnia with a Serb republic, has been riven with divisions, most of all in Mostar.

The EU chief of staff, Sir Martin Garrod, also expressed his concern to the Croat side yesterday over another flashpoint, a hydro-electric dam above the town which almost burst before the new year, sending floods sweeping downstream.

Richard Edgington, a captain in the WEU police, said his force was monitoring repairs on the dam which Bosnian Croats were doing without Muslim approval.

EU-brokered talks on the damaged dam have become bogged down in recriminations between the two communities. Any unilateral work on a dam supposed to be jointly controlled could be provocative in the tinder-dry political atmosphere.

The EU has limited powers in Mostar, once best known for its 16th-century Ottoman Turkish bridge, which collapsed into the Neretva river after a Croatian tank bombardment.

The WEU runs a force of 180 police in the town. But they have no powers of arrest and can only monitor trouble while they tackle the difficult task of creating a united Croat-Muslim police force for the town.

t Sarajevo (Reuter) - Nato said yesterday that its troops fired their first shots in anger of the 17-day-old Bosnia peace mission after a gunman wounded an Italian soldier in Sarajevo on Thursday. "Four to five rounds of 5.66 mm rifle rounds were returned," said an I-For spokesman, Lieutenant- Colonel Mark Rayner, in Sarajevo.

Col Rayner said Nato troops believed they had not killed the gunman, who attacked the Italian sentry guarding a base in the Serb-held suburb of Vogosca, north of the city centre.