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The BBC's Alix Kroeger
"Tensions in Mostar have now exploded into violence"
 real 56k

The BBC's Alix Kroeger in Sarajevo
"Demonstrations in Mostar were well planned"
 real 28k

Friday, 6 April, 2001, 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK
Bosnia bank seizure sparks riots
International police in Mostar
International forces were faced by an angry mob
Fierce riots have broken out in Bosnia amid moves to seize a bank chain accused of funding a Bosnian Croat breakaway movement.

Crowds massed around branches which were seized and additional Nato-led Stabilisation Force (S-For) troops were being deployed to quell the unrest.


Civil unrest, sparked by hard-line antagonists in the Mostar area, has occurred

S-For spokesman Lars Anderson
Some of the worst rioting was in Mostar, a Bosnian Croat nationalist stronghold, where 21 S-For peacekeepers were injured. Local reports said at least two civilians had been hurt in the riots.

S-For troops fired into the air to try to disperse the rioters.

Up to 10 officials and peacekeeping troops were trapped inside the local branch of the Herzegovacka Bank, when some 100 armed demonstrators surrounded it in the western Bosnian town of Grude.

An S-For spokesman said the officials were not hostages, but were trapped inside the bank.

"There's unrest outside and they do not want to go out," S-For spokesman Captain Andrew Coxhead said.

Under fire

The BBC's Bosnia correspondent, Alix Kroeger, says the Mostar demonstrations appeared to be well planned and took S-For peacekeepers by surprise.

Civilian searched in Mostar
Peacekeepers in Mostar have searched civilians on the streets
The rioting erupted when officials of the international administration moved against the bank in Mostar early on Friday. Bosnian Croats overturned and set fire to cars, and hundreds of rioters tried to storm international offices.

The injured soldiers - from Italy, France, Spain, Ireland and the US - were not seriously hurt, an S-For spokesman said.

"There's regular firing coming from outside but I don't dare stick my head out too far to see who's shooting," said one Western diplomat, quoted by the Reuters news agency.

He and other international representatives were later rescued from the hotel by peacekeepers after protesters threatened to storm the building.

Mini-state

At least 11 branches of the bank have been seized by international officials.

Bank employees and "thugs" had joined the unrest, said Ralph Johnson, spokesman for the international High Representative in Bosnia.

The mob had been stealing money from the vaults and destroying bank documents, he said, blaming Croat nationalists for orchestrating the protests.

US peacekeepers near bank in Orasje, Bosnia
More peacekeepers are being deployed near the banks
"Unfortunately... civil unrest, sparked by hard-line antagonists in the Mostar area, has occurred," said Lieutenant Lars Anderson, S-For spokesman in Sarajevo.

The bank at the centre of the dispute is thought to be funding an attempt by the Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) to establish a separate Croat mini-state in Croat-dominated parts of Bosnia.

A spokesman for the bank said the takeover was "an absolutely illegal act" and described it as an "armed robbery".

"There was no reason whatsoever for a raid on the bank except to make a negative effect on the bank's clients," Milan Sutalo said.

But the international authority said the seizure of the bank was prompted by concerns over continued corruption, which "is a threat to democratic governance".

It has appointed a temporary administrator to restore stability to the bank, which holds large sums of public money and is believed to be in the hands of Croat nationalists.

Last month, the HDZ withdrew from the Muslim-Croat federation - one of the two entities that make up post-war Bosnia.

An HDZ call on Bosnian Croat soldiers to desert the federation's army has been widely heeded and nationalists claim that about 8,000 Croat soldiers have abandoned their barracks.

Bank records show the Croat component of the government army holds about 50 accounts there, which may be being used to fund an illegal Croat army, police force and customs administration.

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See also:

28 Mar 01 | Europe
Bosnian Croats desert en masse
19 Mar 01 | Europe
Bosnian Croats postpone self-rule
07 Mar 01 | Europe
Bosnian Croat president fired
21 Nov 00 | Europe
Dayton five years on
05 Apr 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
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