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Posts tagged ‘Islamic Land of Bosnia’

Hundreds gather in Sarajevo to rally for peace in Syria

December 14, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) — Up to a thousand people gathered Wednesday in Sarajevo — the Bosnian city that survived a brutal 44-month siege during the Balkan wars of the 1990s — to rally against the carnage in Syria.

Representatives of Bosnia’s Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Jewish communities said they felt a moral responsibility to voice outrage at the international failure to stop crimes against civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria.

“Here in Sarajevo, we must do everything in our power to show to (Syrian) people that we understand them and to call on humanity to wake up and raise their voices against war,” Eli Tauber, the leader of Bosnia’s small Jewish community, said.

Participants recalled their own suffering and the sense of having been abandoned by the rest of the world during the 1992-95 interethnic war that left 100,000 people dead and another 2 million homeless.

“I was born during the war in Sarajevo in a hospital that was under mortar fire,” said Smirna Kulenovic, 22, a Bosnian Muslim student. “I am here today to raise my voice against all war crimes, equally those that were committed here 20 years ago and those that are now being committed in Syria.”

War criminal sworn in as mayor of town in western Bosnia

November 08, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Several newly-elected mayors on Tuesday boycotted the swearing-in of a convicted war criminal as new mayor of the western Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa. Fikret Abdic was released in 2012 after serving his 15-year sentence in Croatia.

The 76-year-old Abdic was called up first during a ceremony in Sarajevo at which the mayors chosen during Oct. 2 local elections were certified. Mayors of towns around Velika Kladusa walked in to receive their certificates only after Abdic received his.

During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Abdic formed the province of Western Bosnia which fought against fellow Muslim Bosniaks loyal to Sarajevo. For war crimes committed back then, he was tried and served in neighboring Croatia.

Asked after the ceremony how he thinks he will be cooperating with mayors of neighboring towns who chose to ignore him, Abdic told reporters that all his life he was successful in every job he did. “Now I can promise that I can be even better,” he said.

Among others sworn in is Mladen Grujicic, the mayor of Srebrenica and the first ethnic Serb elected in this Bosnian town whose name is synonymous with a slaughter carried out by Serbs. His election is a source of anxiety and anger to the town’s Muslim Bosniaks, because Grujicic doesn’t acknowledge that what happened in Srebrenica was “genocide,” as international courts have defined it.

Grujicic said he will work for the benefit of all citizens of Srebrenica and form a multiethnic team in his municipality. “By forming such a team, we intend to improve the life of all in Srebrenica,” he said. “I think this is the essence of the work in Srebrenica, that both Bosniaks and Serbs unite together,” Grujicic said.

Residents of Bosnian town protest allegedly rigged election

November 02, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Hundreds of Bosnians protested Wednesday in Sarajevo, demanding a rerun of the municipal election in the southern town of Stolac that was halted by claims of irregularities and violent disruptions.

Members within Bosnia’s Central Elections Commission disagree over whether to sanction those who allegedly manipulated the voting process on Oct. 2 or those who tried to prevent them. But the commission says sanctions must come before a repeat election.

The mainly Muslim Bosniak protesters say a month has been enough to decide and claim the Bosnian Croat nationalist party that has run the town for two decades has gained power by rigging every election.

Violence erupted when the opposition tried to stop Bosnian Croats suspected using false names and other irregularities. Voting was canceled shortly after noon and no ballots were counted. Opposition representatives have filed complaints to the Central Election Commission, saying they were immediately fired by the head of the local election commission, a Croat, as soon as they reported irregularities. They said those included people voting with foreign passports, fishing licenses and in the name of dead people.

The local election commission chief, Ivan Peric, has denied the accusations. Bosnian Croat units expelled the majority Muslim Bosniak population as well as other non-Croats from Stolac during the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian war. After the war, many non-Croats returned to the area but say rigged elections mean they have no say in its local government. They say if the town does not produce a fair election, they will consider civil disobedience.

The incident turned international when two days after the election, a government delegation from Croatia visited Stolac to express support for the party ruling there, the Croat Democratic Union. The incident was also discussed during Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s visit last week to Sarajevo.

Ruling Bosnian Serbs, pro-EU group face-off in local votes

September 30, 2016

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnians will vote Sunday in local elections marked by a battle over who will run the municipalities in the part of the country run by Bosnian Serbs — a pro-European Union coalition or the already ruling separatist party with close ties to Russia.

(1 of 11) Bosnian Serb Milorad Dodik, President of the Bosnian Serb region of Republic of Srpska, attends a pre election rally of the “Alliance of Independent Social Democrats” party in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, 240 kms northwest of Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016. Bosnians will vote in local elections on Sunday Oct. 2.

Municipal councils and mayors will be chosen throughout the country, but the main contest will take place in Republika Srpska region between the party of regional President Milorad Dodik — the Alliance of Independent Social-Democrats — and a coalition called The Alliance for Changes.

Dodik advocates secession from Bosnia and has promised Bosnian Serbs a 2018 referendum on independence — something many of them have been seeking since Yugoslavia collapsed during the 1990s. The equally nationalistic coalition sees the future Republika Srpska as a semi-autonomous region within a Bosnia that is an EU member.

The coalition led by the Serb Democratic Party focused its pre-election campaign on bread and butter issues, but also published details of Dodik’s alleged corruption and accused him of throwing the region into poverty during his decade in power.

However, Dodik managed to shift voter’s attention away from the accusations by holding, a week before the regional elections, a divisive Bosnian Serb referendum over a disputed Republika Srpska holiday that the country’s constitutional court had banned because it discriminates against non-Serbs.

The court also banned the referendum, but Dodik conducted it anyway and portrayed the court’s actions as an attack on Serb autonomy. Voters overwhelmingly approved the holiday, although non-Serbs mostly boycotted the vote.

The opposition says the “unnecessary” referendum cost taxpayers 750,000 euros ($840,000) and was used as a ploy by Dodik to divert attention from serious issues facing the region. Each of Bosnia’s two regions — Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation — has its own government, president and parliament, but the two are linked by a shared state-level government, parliament and a three-member presidency comprised of a Muslim Bosniak, Christian Orthodox Serb and Roman Catholic Croat.

In general elections two years ago, Dodik’s party lost the Serb posts in the state elections to the opposition coalition, but retained power in the regional parliament and government. Since his opponents joined the central government, Bosnia made progress toward obtaining EU membership and begun major socio-economic reforms. Dodik has called them Serb traitors.

A poor showing for Dodik’s party in Sunday’s municipal elections, following the loss at the national level, would be a sign of his diminished popularity among Bosnian Serbs after more than a decade in which he has gone unchallenged.

Bosnian Serbs vote in referendum banned by top court

September 25, 2016

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnian Serbs on Sunday voted in a referendum banned by the country’s constitutional court, risking Western sanctions against their autonomous region and criminal charges against their leaders.

The vote was whether to keep Jan. 9 as a holiday in Republika Srpska, commemorating the day in 1992 that Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state, igniting the ruinous 1992-95 war. It comes despite the top court’s ruling that the date, which falls on a Serb Christian Orthodox religious holiday, discriminates against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats in Bosnia.

Authorities said turnout was between 56 and 60 percent. Preliminary results after 30.76 percent of the ballots were counted say 99.8 percent of the voters were in favor of the holiday. The vote has raised tensions and fears of renewed fighting as Bosniaks and Croats see the referendum as an attempt to elevate the Serb region above the country’s constitutional court. It is also a test for a more serious referendum that Bosnian Serb leaders have announced for 2018 — one on independence from Bosnia.

During the 1992-95 war that killed 100,000 people and turned half of the country’s population into refugees, Bosniaks and Croats were persecuted and almost completely expelled from Republika Srpska territory.

After the war, Republika Srpska ended up not independent but an autonomous region of Bosnia. Bosniaks and Croats who returned there view the holiday as a celebration of their expulsion. Republika Srpska, a region of 1.2 million, marks the day with religious ceremonies, hinting the region is still meant just for Serbs.

The constitutional court has banned both the holiday and the referendum, a ruling that Bosnian Serbs see as an attack on their autonomy. The West has urged that the illegal referendum not be held, but Bosnian Serbs are backed by Russia. Western officials said they might consider halting projects in the mini-state or impose travel bans on its leaders and freeze their assets.

Tomislav Stajcic, a resident of Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, compared the holiday with a birthday. “There is no force on this earth, political or divine or any other really, which can change the date of your birth,” he said, calling the constitutional court’s decision “senseless.”

Opposition leaders have dismissed the idea of a new conflict, saying the Bosnian Serb ruling party scheduled the referendum a week before a local election to divert campaign topics from corruption to nationalism.

The Bosnian Serb member of the country’s presidency and one of the opposition leaders in Republika Srpska, Mladen Ivanic, said he doesn’t understand the “circus” about the referendum. “Who wants to celebrate it should and who doesn’t does not have to,” he said.

But the Bosniak member called for prosecutors to act, saying Bosnian Serbs have been pushing the limits for decades. “Now they reached a new level of spitefulness, exceeding all limits,” Bakir Izetbegovic said.

“These people pull the rope until it snaps and then, of course, they land on their back.”

Thousands mark 21 years since Srebrenica massacre

July 11, 2016

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people on Monday marked the 21st anniversary of Europe’s worst mass murder since the Holocaust and attended the funeral of 127 newly-found victims.

Family members sobbed as they hugged the coffins for the last time before their loved ones were laid to rest at a cemetery next to 6,337 other victims found previously in mass graves. The youngest victim buried this year was 14, the oldest 77.

Fatima Duric, 52, buried her husband whom she last saw when Serbs overran the eastern Bosnian enclave at the end of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war. The United Nations had declared Srebrenica a safe haven for civilians, but that didn’t prevent Serb soldiers from attacking the town they besieged for years. As they advanced on July 11, 1995, most of the town’s Muslim population rushed to the nearby U.N. compound in hopes the Dutch peacekeepers would protect them.

But the outnumbered and outgunned peacekeepers watched helplessly as Muslim men and boys were separated for execution and the women and girls were sent to Bosnian government-held territory. Nearly 15,000 residents tried to flee through the woods, but were hunted down and also killed.

International courts defined the massacre of more than 8,000 people as an act of genocide committed with the intent to exterminate the Muslim Bosniak population in the area. The victims were buried in mass graves, which were dug up by the perpetrators shortly after the war and relocated in order to hide the crime. During the process, the half-decomposed remains were ripped apart by bulldozers so that body parts are still being found in more than 100 different mass graves and are being put together and identified through DNA analysis.

Victims are buried each year at the memorial center across the road from the former U.N. base where most of them were last seen alive. Duric lost her husband as they fled with their two children through the woods and walked for days toward government-held territory.

“After all these years, his body was found. In fact, just a few bones. I am burying them today,” Duric said. What hurts the survivors the most is the constant denial of the nature of the crime by Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs.

Last year, Serbia’s prime minister Aleksandar Vucic — a former radical Serb nationalist who openly supported Serb forces in Bosnia during the war — was chased away by stone-throwing protesters from the burial ceremony mostly because he refused to acknowledge the genocide.

This year, victims’ families demanded that those who deny the nature of the crime should not come so nobody from official Belgrade or the Serb half of now ethnically divided Bosnia, where Srebrenica is located, came. The president of the Bosnian Serb part, Milorad Dodik, told media on Monday that Serbs will never acknowledge the massacre as genocide.

However, the leader of the Serbian opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Cedomir Jovanovic, who never avoided the word, was greeted by the victims’ family members with applause as he laid flowers at the memorial center. Like every year, the non-governmental group from Belgrade “Women in Black” stood quietly holding a large banner that read “Responsibility,” demanding Serbia acknowledges its role in the crimes in Bosnia.

“We will never stop paying tribute to the victims of genocide,” said Stasa Zajevic, the head of the group. The former president of the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Theodor Meron, as well as the current president, Carmel Agius insisted in speeches that the Srebrenica massacre “must be called by its real name: genocide.” The tribunal has convicted six people for involvement in the Srebrenica genocide, including wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, sentenced this year to 40 years in prison.

President Bakir Izetbegovic said in order for a crime to be put into the past, it first has to face punishment. “The answer is in our readiness to learn from history and to turn those lessons into a vision of peace, understanding and tolerance,” Izetbegovic said.

“The dream of exterminating others will always end with defeat and self-destruction,” he warned those who still deny the genocide in Srebrenica. “Accepting and acknowledging the truth is the first step toward reconciliation.”

The Srebrenica funerals are unique among Muslims because they are attended by women which otherwise is not customary. But mostly male residents were killed in Srebrenica and the town’s women never even considered sticking to the tradition.

A clash of ideas: Bosnian Serbs rally for and against govt

May 14, 2016

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Tens of thousands of people rallied Saturday in separate demonstrations for and against the regional Bosnian Serb government in the northern city of Banja Luka, kept apart by police and barricades to prevent violence.

The pro-EU Alliance for Changes is accusing the Bosnian Serb government of corruption and its leader Milorad Dodik of dictatorship, saying he has brought the region to the brink of financial collapse. The Alliance claims Bosnian Serbs would be much better off cooperating with others in the country on reforms to improve people’s lives and get Bosnia into the 28-nation European Union.

Dodik’s camp accuses the opposition of betraying Bosnian Serb national interests, which according to him lie in seceding from Bosnia and creating a new Serb country with close ties to Russia. Bosnian Serbs fought in a 1992-95 war for secession and annexation to neighboring Serbia but the conflict ended with 100,000 dead with a peace agreement that left Bosnia’s the external borders intact but divided the country into two regions — Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosniaks and Croats. Each have their own state-like institutions and are linked by a joint government, a three-member presidency and a parliament.

International officials have repeatedly told Dodik the dissolution of the country is impossible but his obstructions to the functioning of the state have left Bosnia lagging on the road toward the EU. His opponents claim he wants a separate country so he can control the courts and hide his financial embezzlements that have enriched him and his allies but impoverished the people.

Both sides brought thousands by bus Saturday to Banja Luka. Opposition supporters held banners saying “You will all go to jail,” and demanded an early general election while Dodik’s supporters carried pictures of him and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If we do not have a country, we will be killed,” Dodik told his supporters. “Republika Srpska is a country and we are defending it.” He then sang a folk song with the lyrics “nobody can do us any harm, we are stronger than destiny.”

A few hundred meters (yards) away, opposition supporters called for his resignation and chanted “Thief! Thief!” The Alliance for Changes a year ago began revealing evidence of corruption Dodik and his allies were allegedly involved in as well as economic data showing how Bosnian living standards have eroded during his reign.

One after the other, speakers at the opposition rally complained about the bad living conditions, how their retirements are the lowest in Europe and how the children of officials in Dodik’s government own property abroad while theirs don’t even have jobs.

“Is this in the Bosnian Serb national interest?” asked Milana Karanovic-Miljevic, who came from Drvar, one of Bosnia’s poorest towns. At both rallies, former soldiers who fought for Republika Srpska competed in patriotic speeches claiming their respective camp was the real keeper of the ideas of wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and general Ratko Mladic. Both men are jailed by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. One is convicted of war crimes and the other is on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity, committed while creating Republika Srpska.

Adding to the confusion, Mladic’s son appeared on the stage of the pro-government rally to greet Dodik’s supporters, while Karadzic’s daughter spoke on the other stage, greeting opposition backers. Both said they spoke on behalf of their fathers.

The rallies ended peacefully.

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