Western Official Warns of 'Fascism' in Bosnia

Author: Philippa Fletcher
Uploaded: Sunday, 13 May, 2001

Report for Reuters on the assessment of recent violence in Republika Srpska - directed against Bosniak returnees in Trebinje, and intended to disrupt a stone-laying ceremony for the rebuilding of the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka - made by Daniel Ruiz, OHR representative in Trebinje

A Western official beaten by rioting Serbs in Bosnia labeled his attackers ‘fascists’' on Wednesday and said the international community should not underestimate the threat they posed to peace. ‘Today is the anniversary of the victory over fascism in Europe and 56 years later we still face fascism in Europe’, said Daniel Ruiz, representative of Bosnia's top peace overseer in the southern town of Trebinje, torn by rioting Saturday.

Ruiz found himself alone trying to prevent rioting Serb youths from breaking into an Islamic community building where international and Bosnian officials had taken refuge. He said key members of the group, who were rioting against the reconstruction of a mosque, had been identified but were still roaming around the town. Unless they were arrested without delay, its small but growing Muslim population would flee again as it did during the conflict between 1992 and 1995. ‘The situation is very dangerous’, he said in an interview.

Ruiz, a former officer in the Spanish army, said that after he pushed a man trying to break into the building to the floor, seven others jumped on him, punching and kicking. ‘There is central organization. The same people have been seen in Dobrinja, Trebinje and Banja Luka’, he said, referring to riots last month over the transfer of a Sarajevo suburb to Muslim-Croat control and unrest Monday over another mosque.

Local bar owners had been paid to supply free alcohol to the rioters, he said, and police had simply stood by. ‘I shouted at them: “Do something! Act!”, but they just stood there’, said Ruiz, who is fluent in the local language.

Police Knew in Advance?

‘They were passive, unprofessional, and possibly aware in advance’, he said. Ruiz said the resignation of the local police chief was a meaningless move. He was due to have been replaced anyway because he was not from the party now dominating the government of Bosnia's Serb half. That party was founded in 1990 by Radovan Karadzic, now on the run from UN war crimes charges linked to the murder and expulsion of Muslims and Croats from eastern Bosnia during the war, but believed to retain an influence from behind the scenes.

Only around 200 Muslims had returned to Trebinje, in southeastern Bosnia, out of a pre-war community of 6,000, Ruiz said, but the numbers had begun to pick up sharply. A Muslim who returned to the town last year said some refugees were even considering returning from abroad, but that everyone would leave if the thugs remained on the loose. ‘They are already saying they have defeated the international community’, said the man, who declined to be named and said he planned to stay in Sarajevo for the time being.

Ruiz said arrests would improve the atmosphere. ‘As soon as the perpetrators are arrested the situation will calm down and all the sheep who support whoever's strongest will support the moderate majority, which is currently under threat from a small band of hooligans’, he said.

Trebinje was on a European smuggling route for drugs, weapons, stolen cars and illegal immigrants, Ruiz said, adding that he assumed those behind the riots also wanted to scare the international community away to protect their businesses. He rejected charges of bias toward the town's Muslims, noting that he had attended a dedication ceremony for a new Serb church and discussed funds for the town with Serb officials. ‘I've probably done more to help the Serbs and look how they repay me’, Ruiz said.

Reuters, 9 May 2001

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