SFOR raids Croat bank—take two
Troops of Bosnia's Stabilisation Forces (SFOR) blasted their way into the main vault of a Mostar bank at around two in the morning Wednesday 18 April. The action had all the makings of an incredible bank heist—its timing in the dead of night, the use of high-grade explosives, and the blocking of roads leading to and from the town.
"It was not possible to do this with finesse," high-ranking international envoy Ralph Johnson told reporters in Sarajevo Wednesday. But he did not mean that SFOR had turned to the plunder of local banks. It was Hercegovačka Banka documents and computer hard drives that the peacekeepers took that night, not loot. This evidence is what the international community believes will prove that the bank has been illegally funding a two-month-old Bosnian Croat separatist movement.
SFOR had stood guard on 6 April when the international community tried to investigate the bank's branches in broad daylight. Riots in Mostar injured nearly two dozen peacekeepers and several civilians, and the mob torched a few UN vehicles as well. Sarajevo's OBN Television that night showed peacekeepers dodging rocks as gunshots rang out. About 20km away, in Grude, armed men took several bank investigators hostage and threatened one American with execution. Needless to say, the investigators did not get the documents they needed that day.
Those associated with Hercegovačka Banka have filled Bosnian and Croatian media with their vitriol against the international community since 6 April. Following this week's SFOR action, (suspended) bank spokesperson Milan Šutalo was quoted by Habena News Agency as saying High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch's "argument of force, instead of the force of argument, only confirms his impotence." Šutalo did not, of course, use these words to describe the Mostar mobs or the Grude gunmen.
Leaders of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which is spearheading the separatist movement, followed suit, accusing the auditors of "robbery." Ljubo Ćesić Rojs, considered by many to be one of the biggest criminals in Hercegovina, told Croatia's Globus this week that he was only wealthy because of his "big Croat heart" and because he is a "noble" man. Rojs said the recent BiH-Croatia agreement to control smuggling by closing some border crossings would be futile. "They cannot build as many concrete blocks as we will be able to destroy," he said.
The Muslim-Croat Federation government (which the HDZ has boycotted since January) begged SFOR on 13 April to secure Federation Army weapons stockpiles that had been abandoned by the thousands of Croat soldiers who had left the joint army. A statement in Oslobođenje announced that the government would consider anyone near the weapons and not sporting Federation insignia on their uniforms (many of those who resigned had ripped the insignia off) as paramilitary formations and would act accordingly.
SFOR had told the government earlier that week that it was the Federation's own responsibility to secure those areas. But the 6 April riots and a car-bombing that partially destroyed the family home of two moderate Croats in the Federation government may have made them change their minds. Last weekend, SFOR began moving weapons from northern Bosnian barracks. On Monday, they removed weapons from about ten Croat sites in Hercegovina and placed them under Federation control in the main barracks south of Mostar.
SFOR spokesperson Jorg Lehmann told Agence France Presse that the situation in southern Bosnia was not tense and that SFOR was monitoring the barracks.
Srebrenica suspect pleads not guilty
A Bosnian Serb charged with complicity to genocide in a 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim civilians pleaded not guilty at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Wednesday. Dragan Obrenović, 38, the wartime deputy commander of the Zvornik Brigade, is charged with this crime and others stemming from the Bosnian Serb take-over of the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995. The ICTY indictment, according to an Onasa News Agency report, states that he was part of a plan to "'detain, capture, and summarily execute by firing squad and bury over 5000 Muslim men and boys from the Srebrenica enclave."
Obrenović was arrested by SFOR on Sunday outside Zvornik. It was SFOR's first arrest since June 2000, though ten publicly-indicted suspects are at-large in the Republika Srpska (RS) and the RS authorities have not made a single arrest. ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte made her disappointment with SFOR's inaction in the arrests arena very clear when she visited Bosnia several weeks ago. She said she would bring up the Force's mandate before the UN Security Council if SFOR did not do more to arrest the accused. SFOR spokespeople continue to say that if they come across suspects in the regular lines of duty, they will be arrested.
Obrenović is expected to come to trial early next year. The prosecution is expected to use much of the same evidence that it is now using in the trial of one of Obrenović's superiors, General Radislav Krstić, who was arrested in 1998.
Finances force recall of Bosnian diplomats
Dnevni Avaz gave Wednesday's front page to the news that the BiH Foreign Ministry is recalling some of its diplomats and closing several embassies because the Ministry just does not have the money. Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdžija told all diplomatic and administrative staff in outside countries that if they have spent more than four years at a post, they must return home by 30 June. He also announced major budget cuts in this area, saying that from now on, diplomatic missions would have to do their work more efficiently.
Bosnia to get cut of SFRJ gold reserves
Bosnia will receive 13.20 per cent of the ex-Yugoslav gold reserves, as per an agreement this week between the IMF and representatives of countries that were once part of the old Yugoslavia, according to Hrvatska Riječ. BiH's cut of the gold will be about USD 66 million. The rest of the riches will be divided among FRY (36.52 per cent), Croatia (28.49 per cent), Slovenia (16.39 per cent) and Macedonia (5.4 per cent).
The years-long negotiations had only recently resumed, following the fall of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević. But the BiH team attending the negotiations was unhappy with the 13 per cent cut. Spasoje Tuševljak said the IMF distribution plan did not reflect Bosnia's position in the SFRJ (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), and dropped hints that the plan was unfair.
One of the most-wanted men in Bosnia told a Mostar-based magazine in a rare interview two weeks ago that he would never be arrested.
Former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić, who has a USD five million price on his head, told Danas that he would not fall into the hands of the ICTY alive. The interview showcased the well-documented bitter irony that Karadžić, who was a psychiatrist before the war, is dangerously deluded.
"I am not in hiding at all," Karadžić announced, though the Danas reporter had been blindfolded and brought to the interview in a Serb-controlled area of southern Hercegovina. "I walk around normally, associate with my friends and my soldiers, and I have even recently been in Sarajevo."
Karadžić's autobiography will be published by a Western publisher later this year. "The book will become a best-seller, and I'm sure it will even be proposed for the Nobel Prize," he said.
Banja Luka's Nezavisne Novine wrote Tuesday that the nationalist political party Karadžić founded in 1990, the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), still did not have the courage to formally expel him from its ranks. News reports have appeared quoting "well-informed sources" who say that the party is indeed distancing itself from Karadžić and other ICTY suspects, but nothing has been publicly announced.
"Obviously, the SDS is obligated to expel Radovan Karadžić from the party, but publicly stating that is very painful for them, and that is why they are doing it anonymously through the media," former RS Prime Minister Milorad Dodik told the paper.
Beth Kampschror, 20 April 2001
- Archive of Bosnian news reviews
- Browse through the CER eBookstore
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page
Agence France Presse
Habena News Agency
Onasa News Agency