Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Ethnic tensions rising in Bosnia, once again

ATAVISM?While a repeat of the bloodshed in the early 1990s in unlikely, simmering discontent is coming to the surface as the country prepares for elections in October

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SARAJEVO

For a month usually devoid of politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina, August has been unusually fraught, as several incidents have raised ethnic tensions to a level not seen in years.

On Aug. 11, a bomb severely damaged the tomb of Alija Izetbegovic, the former Bosnian president. Last week in eastern Bosnia, a group of Muslims forced their way into a Serbian church built on the former site of a mosque. And the broadcast of a videotape showing the wartime killing of an unarmed Bosnian Serb by Muslims prompted calls for a senior Bosnian general to be tried on war crimes charges.

Nationalism

Those incidents have been accompanied by a sharp increase in the expression of nationalist sentiments that is worrying international officials as the country prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections on Oct. 1.

The prime minister of Bosnia's Serbian republic, Milorad Dodik, has been the most outspoken. On Aug. 18, he compared the Muslim-dominated Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, to Tehran, and he has repeatedly hinted over the summer that his republic should become an independent state.

In an interview with BN TV, a Bosnian Serb television station, Dodik said he was "sick and tired" of the politicking of the Muslim leaders, "which makes fools of us so that we look like war criminals," he said.

Low risk

After almost 11 years of efforts to rebuild and stabilize Bosnia, the diplomats and international officials involved say that the country runs little risk of a resurgence of the level of conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives from 1992 to 1995.

But they say the tensions could prompt some violence, and worse, could threaten to unravel the long complex process aimed at making Bosnia a cohesive state that can operate without foreign intervention.

"Inflammatory rhetoric raises tensions, and this in turn can all too easily escalate into violence in a society where weapons are everywhere, alcohol plentiful and the summer long and hot," warned Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the country's most senior international official, known as the high representative, in an editorial in three Bosnian newspapers earlier this month.

"The more abusive the campaign rhetoric now, the more difficult it will be to find ... partners to create functioning institutions," he wrote.

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