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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Bosnians jailed over mosque riots
Serb policemen pursue Serb nationalist protesters as police try to protect Muslims laying a foundation stone in Banja Luka
Tear gas and water cannon were used by police
Fourteen Bosnian Serb nationalists have been jailed for starting riots which marred attempts to rebuild a destroyed mosque in Banja Luka.

A court in the Bosnian town north-west of the capital, Sarajevo, found the men guilty after a much-postponed trial finally reached its conclusion.

A Bosnian Serb police officer helps a colleague injured during demonstrations
Police officers were among the injured
The riots erupted in May 2001, at a ceremony to lay the new cornerstone of the 16th-Century Ferhadija mosque, which was destroyed during the Bosnian War.

The incident was one of the most serious attacks directed against Muslims since the end of the 1992-95 war.

One of the suspects was jailed for 13 months and two for 12 months.

The remainder were jailed for between two and five months.

After hearing the verdict, the suspects protested and one shouted: "Long live Serbia."

Prosecutors had postponed the start of the trial three times after failing to arrest the men and present them to the court.

Initially, they brought charges against 16 suspects, but one was unable to face trial after being in a car accident and the other was found to be mentally ill.

Failed reconciliation

Several thousand Bosnian Serbs clashed with several hundred Muslims who had gone to the town for last year's ceremony.

At least one person died and dozens were injured.

The 14 were identified as the main instigators of trouble that began soon after the ceremony began.

As local leaders, diplomats and hundreds of Muslims gathered to watch workmen lay the cornerstone, hundreds of Bosnian Serbs encircled them and threw stones.

Rioters used tear gas grenades and eggs to pelt the Muslims, and several buses and vehicles were set on fire.

Nearly all of Banja Luka's Muslims were expelled during the war and all of the city's 17 mosques were destroyed. Reconstruction began again after the riots ended.

International officials had organised the reconstruction project as part of efforts to promote reconciliation and the return of refugees in this north-western corner of Bosnia.

See also:

08 May 01 | Europe
06 May 01 | Europe
18 Jun 01 | Europe
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