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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Analysis: Bosnian Croats' trial of strength
S-For
Nationalists claim Bosnia's administrators have harmed them
By BBC's South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The clashes between Bosnian Croats and S-For troops in the southern city of Mostar follow months of an increasingly-bitter dispute between Croat nationalists and the international officials who are in charge of overseeing the Bosnian peace process.

The row amounts to a trial of strength between the two, and has provoked questions over whether it could lead to the Bosnian Croats reviving their wartime mini-state.

Diehard Bosnian Croat nationalists, grouped around their main party, the Croatian Democrtic Union (HDZ), began the dispute after Bosnia's elections last November.

Ante Jelavic
Jelavic: Dismissed for undermining peace process
The HDZ claimed that amendments to the election law had deprived the party - by far the strongest among Bosnian Croats - of its traditional place in Bosnia central government.

Likewise, the party has been ousted from the government of the Muslim-Croat federation - one of Bosnia's two entities - where its representatives have been replaced by Croats from multi-ethnic or moderately nationalist parties.

The war of words escalated last month when the HDZ and its associates moved from a boycott of the federal administration to confirm an earlier proposal to set up self-governing power structures for Bosnia's Croats.

That development followed the decision of the international community's High Representative to Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, to sack the Bosnian Croats' representative on Bosnia's collective presidency, Ante Jelavic.


Wolfgang Petritsch's attempts to drive a wedge between the Bosnian Croats and their hardline leaders have not worked so far

Mr Jelavic was among senior HDZ officials who were banned from public office for undermining the Dayton peace process.

The dismissals were designed to penalise HDZ leaders without punishing ordinary Bosnian Croats.

But Mr Petritsch's attempts to drive a wedge between the Bosnian Croats and their hardline leaders have not worked so far.

Deserters

Over the past two weeks, various Bosnian Croat officials and officers in the security forces have resigned from federal institutions.

And a large majority of the Bosnian Croat contingent of around 7,000 soldiers have deserted from the federation's army.

The international administration has warned that deserters - along with those who have been sacked - will not get paid.

But the HDZ leadership has promised to pay the deserters - whom it views as an embryonic separate army - 20% more than they were receiving from the federation's army.


It is not yet clear how seriously the clampdown on Hercegovacka Bank may dent the Bosnian Croat hardliners' ability to mobilise funds

This move - along with other initiatives that appear to be aimed at reviving the wartime Bosnian Croat mini-state - has prompted Mr Petritsch now to go beyond his tactics of sacking recalcitrant nationalists. He has now moved on to clamping down on their finances.

Hercegovacka Bank in Mostar, where the clashes broke out, has long been suspected of being a conduit for funding the HDZ's efforts to resist Bosnia's post-war reintegration.

According to recent media reports in Croatia, the HDZ has also syphoned off contributions made by the Croatian government to help the Bosnian Croats.

Crime claims

One account alone in the Hercegovacka Bank containing nearly $30m that originated from Zagreb.

The international takeover of Hercegovacka Bank may now cast some light on what exactly has been going on with funds acquired by the HDZ.

There have been allegations that the Bosnian Croat hardliners have also been financing their political activities from the proceeds of widespread smuggling of refugees, arms and drugs.

It is not yet clear how seriously the clampdown on Hercegovacka Bank may dent the Bosnian Croat hardliners' ability to mobilise funds.

They almost certainly have a range of other financial channels at their disposal.

But Mr Petritsch's latest move shows that he is getting increasingly tough in his trial of strength with the HDZ.

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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
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