The government in Zagreb expressed its support for the Sarajevo government in its handling of the secessionist rebels in Mostar. On Friday, the administration of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation sacked three army officers and a civil servant for their support for the illegal declaration of self-rule by the nationalist HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union, in southwest Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The Defense Minister of the Muslim-Croat federation, Mijo Anić, removed the high-ranking army officers, including one general, for failing to follow orders. The officers had ignored him when he told them to overrule the decision of his predecessor, Miroslav Prče, to remove the Croat component of the joint army.
"These removals came as a result of ... military irresponsibility, of disrespect for civil institutions and of subordination," Anić told a news conference. He said the ministry had already appointed replacements for those officers who had been sacked. Prče is a member of the HDZ and had obeyed an order by the former Bosnian Croat leader Ante Jelavic, who had led the move for a breakaway Croat assembly in Mostar. He was sacked from the country's inter-ethnic presidency a few days ago by the international community's high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch.
Soldiers or politicians?
Earlier this week, the entire command staff of the Mostar-based First Guard Corps expressed their support for the policy of the self-styled Croatian National Congress (HNS).
The United Nations Security Council condemned the move on Thursday, saying it was in open defiance of the November 1995 Dayton peace accords which ended three and a half of warfare in Bosnia. Under Dayton, Bosnia is constituted as two parts, a Croat-Muslim federation and a Serb entity called Republika Srpska, within a unified state.
But Bosnian Croat hardliners, who did badly in recent elections, have been complaining about the election rules, which they say discriminated against openly secessionist parties. They have set up an assembly to oversee an autonomous Croat administration, with its own army and police, threatening to collect taxes and customs duties.
Most Croatian newspapers carried gruesome photographs of a man, believed to be the attacker of an alleged leading mafia boss, Both attacker and target were severely injured in a shootout in central Zagreb on Thursday. Police are looking for the bodyguard of the man known as "the king of the slot machines," Vjeko Sliško. He is reputed to be head of one of the two most powerful crime organizations in Croatia. The would-be alleged assassin was identified as Belgian-born James Cappiau.
Immediately after loosing off his shot at Sliško, Cappiau was himself shot by Sliško's driver and bodyguard, Ivica Birtić. He fled and is now being sought by police. Sliško and Cappiau were taken to a Zagreb hospital, both in critical condition with serious head injuries.
The shooting is the latest in a series of mafia related shootouts in Zagreb, part of a turf war between the country's criminals. Sliško was due to testify in the trial of leaders of a rival group. They are thought to have tried to kill him before. According to Večernji list, Sliško survived four previous assassination attempts. In one of these, in November 1999, a shoulder-launched grenade ricocheted off Sliško's armored jeep, killing a passer-by.
An Egyptian Islamic militant group has denied involvement in another recent violent attack in Zagreb, a bomb placed at the town hall.
Dobroslav Paraga, head of the extreme Croatian Party of Rights-1861 (HSP-1861), told the newspapers that he received a telephone call from someone who said he was from the group Jamaa Islamiya, who claimed responsibility for planting the device. In the bomb attack last week, no one was injured but 12 cars were damaged in the car park. The building was slightly damaged.
Zagreb mayor Milan Bandić told Večernji list that he had received several claims.
Abu Besir, a member of Jamaa Islamiya, told Večernji list that his group is negotiating with Croatian government to try to find the truth about the disappearance of its leader Abu Tala'at, who was arrested in Croatia in 1995. Tala'at was due for extradition from Croatia for not reporting his stay in the country within the 24-hour time limit.
He disappeared while in police custody, and the group believes the Croatian government sent him to Egypt where he was sentenced to death in absentia in 1992. The French secret service is rumoured to have helped with the undercover extradition.
A car bomb attack followed in the Istrian port of Rijeka in October 1995. 26 people were injured and Jamaa Islamiya claimed responsibility on that occasion. This week, though, the group's spokesman said "We are not responsible for this explosion but it does not mean that we shall not act if negotiations fail." This from a group that is believed to be responsible for a fatal attack at the Egyptian heritage site of Luxor which killed 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians.
Pat on the back
The head of NATO's parliamentary assembly, Rafael Estrella, met President Stipe Mesić on Wednesday, and urged Croatia to take a determined lead in the troubled Balkans region. "Croatia is in a great position to show countries in the region the right path," said Estrella. (He obviously wasn't referring to Croatia's example in keeping the streets safe for ordinary citizens to enjoy the fresh air.)
Mr Estrella stressed the need for Croatia to fulfil its obligations towards refugees from the 1991 to 1995 war, and to keep cooperating with the Hague-based UN International Criminal Tribunal.
Dan Damon, 24 March 2001
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