Peace but no reconciliation for the people of Mostar

A NIGHT out in east Mostar, the Muslim half of the divided Bosnian city, means a trip to the cinema screen erected for the entertainment of the 35,000 people trapped on the east bank of the Neretva river. Peace has, in theory, come to Mostar, a product of the Washington agreement for a federation between the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia.

But memories of the vicious year-long war in the city die hard. In the ruins of east Mostar, the main feature film has frequently been preceded by footage of the systematic destruction last year of the 16th- century Turkish bridge across the turquoise river. On the west bank, the Croatian soldiers who shelled the bridge, nominal allies of those across the river, are still expelling Muslim residents to the east.

The Muslim-Croatian war is over, the politicians say, and the Geneva peace plan, focus of frantic efforts by Russian and Western diplomats this week, assumes only two warring factions: the Bosnian Serbs and the new federation. But although the shelling has stopped in Mostar and central Bosnia, reconciliation is a far off and the alliance against the Serbs is shaky.

Hopes for the reunification of Mostar, and for the realisation of the federation, now rest on the shoulders of a German ex-mayor, who yesterday took over the administration of the city in the name of the European Union. It will be the big test for the tentative Bosnian federation, said Hans Koschnick, a former mayor of Bremen who is not entirely optimistic about his task.

'I have always told people the chances of success . . . lie a shade over 50 per cent, meaning that the chances of failure are just under 50 per cent,' he said recently. 'That is a damn high risk.'

Mr Koschnick insisted on the demilitarisation of Mostar before he assumed his position, but it seems that most soldiers swapped one uniform for another. 'I believe the police force has grown in size - on both sides - almost to match the (number of) troops before the agreement,' said Jerrie Hulme, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) chief in Mostar.

The EU is dispatching 200 police officers to assist the administrator, but made it clear they are not there to impose order by force. 'If a shot is fired, I will have to send the international force straight home,' Mr Koschnick said.

The debris of war has been cleared away, most of the sniper screens have been dismantled and police from both sides man a checkpoint on the truce line by a rickety bridge across the river; but many obstacles to a workable peace remain. In Mostar, these are mostly to be found on the west bank, a sinister, lawless place where the streets are filled with aggressive young men in uniform, three of whom ordered a Muslim family to leave their home 10 days ago, according to the UNHCR. 'There is no place for balija in Mostar,' they said, using a derogatory term for Muslims.

For their part, the Bosnian authorities on the east bank have refused to let civilians leave; as a result, thousands are still crammed into the cellars of buildings shelled to rubble. And the UN reports that 3,500 Croats have been expelled from the Muslim-held town of Zenica since the peace deal was signed in March.

UN officials and other aid workers are divided over the degree of official complicity in the 'ethnic cleansing' of Mostar, but all agree that law and order is notably absent from the west. 'I think that we're down to the post-war problems of warlords and black marketeers,' said Mr Hulme. But a colleague, who asked not to be identified, disagrees. 'I believe these gangs are operating under the protection of some official body,' he said. 'When everyone in the city knows their names . . . and they still own the cafes, and sit in them drinking, something is wrong with the justice system.'

The aid worker blames politicians in the self-styled 'Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosna', the statelet in western Herzegovina, who are 'very much opposed to the federation'. They have argued that Mostar should remain split into two municipalities by the river running through it, and their position is likely to harden. 'The real price for the Croats, the price tag for the federation, is giving up power in Mostar and the idea that it can be the capital of some Croatian mini-state,' said the aid worker. 'That hasn't happened yet.'

It is clear that Herzeg-Bosna still looks to Zagreb rather than Sarajevo. Shops in west Mostar accept the kuna, Croatia's currency, and the deutschmarks favoured elsewhere in Bosnia. Anto Valentic, a senior Bosnian Croat official, recently told reporters that the Bosnian side 'must be orientated towards Western culture and civilisation' - a remark unlikely to endear him to the Muslim sophisticates of Sarajevo and east Mostar. He added: 'We can't really talk about (federation) as irreversible.'

In theory, the Bosnian federation is to seek confederation with Croatia, an idea that remains deeply unpopular in Zagreb. Washington cajoled the Croats and Muslims into a deal when it became clear their war was suicidal: it was driven by fear of the Serbs rather than a desire for unity. And the Serbian troops entrenched nearby might yet help cement the deal.

'There is still the overlying threat from the hill to the east,' said Mr Hulme. 'Nobody knows what the Serbs are going to do. That might work in favour of a joint Mostar.'

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Justin Bieber performing in Paris earlier this year
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Compliance Training Officer - Investment Bank

£60000 - £75000 per annum + highly competitive package: Real Staffing: A leadi...

Head Of Compliance Policy - Global Bank

MARKET RATE: Real Staffing: A Global Banking organisation has some exciting gr...

Business Studies Teacher

£21084 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are looking for a...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We have an exciting role f...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil