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Former soldiers fight to stay in Bosnia

By Humphrey Hawksley
BBC News, Sarajevo


Bosnia-Hercegovina is preparing to expel hundreds of Muslim former soldiers who went to the country in the early 1990s to fight for Bosnian government forces during the conflict.

The ruins of Sarajevo Town hall and National Library, May 2008
Bosnia is legally obliged to expel anyone who is part of a terror network

"I came to help the people here," says Aiman Awad, who could now be facing deportation.

"I am very sorry because this country is violating our human rights and breaking all the rules."

When he took up arms in 1992, Mr Awad says he was promised citizenship.

But a clause in the 1995 US-sponsored peace agreement stipulated that all "foreign fighters" - as they are known - must leave the country.

Amnesty International estimates that more than 660 have so far been stripped of their citizenship and that overall about 1,500 still live in Bosnia.

Campaigning

A further six, all originally from Algeria, have been in Guantanamo Bay since 2002.

"It is in the vital interest of Bosnia-Hercegovina to make absolutely clear to the world that there are no groups here that might be part of networks supporting terrorism," says Miroslav Lajcak, a Slovak diplomat who is the internationally appointed High Representative, who has ultimate control in the country.

Imad Al Husin
Imad al-Husin faces deportation, though he has been in Bosnia for years

"The legal obligation is clear. Those people should be have been out of Bosnia many years ago."

Aiman Awad is campaigning to stay in Bosnia with his friend Imad al-Husin who lives in a small apartment overlooking Mount Igman just outside Sarajevo.

Both men dress in black and sport closely shaved heads with long beards.

Sitting on the steps of their local mosque, they deny any connection to any terror group.

"No, we haven't," says Imad al-Husin.

"But trouble is that the American president says you are either with him or against him. And I am certainly not with Bush."

Frontier

Both men are in the middle of a process that could see them deported to Syria, although neither has lived in the country for many years.

It's very difficult to be a Muslim nowadays. The whole world is anti-Islamic
Nada Dizolaravic
Wife of Guantanamo detainee

"The Bosnian people don't want to throw us out," says Aiman Awad.

"It's the politicians. They're doing it because it's good for their jobs."

Thirteen years after the end of the war, Bosnia is now preparing to sign a key agreement to start the long process of joining the European Union, of which meeting "counter-terrorist" objectives is a key part.

The police, however, believe they are on top of the problem.

"The simple fact they came here to fight in the war does not now mean they are terrorists," says Brig Gen Vincenzo Coppola, head of the EU police mission that oversees all of Bosnia's police forces.

"If this issue is not carefully managed, it could lead towards problems. But so far it has not, and a strong, effective presence of terrorism in this country has not yet been proven."

For centuries, Bosnia has been a frontier between Christian Europe and the Islamic East.

The Sarajevo skyline is a blend of mosque minarets and church towers, with mingling sounds of bells and the call to prayer.

Vulnerable

Last century, it was the starting point for both World War I and the 1992-1995 conflict, so there is little surprise that it has now become vulnerable to the "war on terror".

In the run-down suburb of Novi Grad, where apartment blocks remain pockmarked from the war, Nada Dizolaravic sorts through piles of documents collected while campaigning for her husband's release from Guantanamo Bay.

Omar Boudella and five others, all originally from Algeria, were arrested on terror charges shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

They were suspected of planning bomb attacks on the British and US embassies.

The court found them innocent, but immediately after being cleared they were taken to Guantanamo Bay.

The Pentagon describes them as illegal enemy combatants, although none has yet been brought to trial.

"My husband isn't a terrorist," says Nada, shaking her head.

"He worked for a humanitarian organisation. It's very difficult to be a Muslim nowadays. The whole world is anti-Islamic."

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SEE ALSO
Bosnian PM resigns over reforms
01 Nov 07 |  Europe
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
21 Nov 07 |  Country profiles

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