News 13 Aug 15

Attack on Bosnian Muslims Raises Tensions in Prijedor

Apparently unprovoked assault of four Bosniaks in north-western town aggravates ethnic tensions in region that has seen a spate of such incidents recently.

Srecko Latal
Prijedor town centre. Photo: Wikicommons/Natalino7.

Another in a series of ethnic-related incidents has increased tension in the Prijedor region of northwest Bosnia, in the Republika Srpska, only two days after local authorities and members of religious communities met to calm the situation.

The incident took place in front of a bakery early on Wednesday when four Serbs approached four Bosniaks and attacked them without reason, two of the victims told the media.

"They asked us where are we coming from ... and then the question followed: 'Are you Balije (a derogatory term for Bosniaks)?" one of the victims told the media.

"I did not want to fall for this provocation, I even offered him my hand ....I turned around, there were no indications that something might happen... At that moment I was hit in the left side of my face and lower lip, and then the second blow brought me down and I hit the floor," he said.

One of the Bosniaks was living and working in France and another in Sweden. Both of them came to Prijedor to visit friends and families during summer holidays.

Police said they were still investigating the incident.

"There was a disturbance of public order and peace by eight people. Two groups of four people each participated. Until all the facts are not established we cannot say anything else," Marija Matic, Prijedor police spokeswoman, said.

"One [group] say one thing and another, something else. We will have more information tomorrow," she concluded.

This attack follows similar incidents in the last few months in Prijedor, where a fragile ethnic coexistence has only slowly been re-established since the 1992-5 war in Bosnia.

At the beginning of the war, Bosnian Serbs forced 60,000 non-Serbs - half of Prijedor's total 120,000 inhabitants - to flee. During this "ethnic cleansing", some 4,200 Bosniaks and Croats were killed.

Since the war, some 23,000 non-Serbs - predominately Bosniaks - have returned. Others established new lives abroad, but many have kept their houses and apartments in Prijedor and still visit them, especially during summer.

In recent years, Prijedor and the surrounding area has seen more than 20,000 mainly Bosniak visitors over the summer period.

Over the years Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs have learned to live again next to each other and the number of ethnic incidents has dwindled.

But incidents have increased again over the past few months around the 20th anniversaries of the Srebrenica massacre last month and Croatia’s Operation Storm.

These tensions led to an attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at the 20th anniversary Srebrenica commemoration, but also to several attacks on Bosniaks in Republika Srpska, Bosnia's mainly Serbian entity.

In the last months, two Bosniak weddings were marred by verbal altercations and fist fights between wedding guests and local Serbs, angered by the sight of Bosnian state flags flown in the motorcade.

In addition, two young Bosniaks who had temporarily returned from Switzerland were attacked by local Serbs in a café in Prijedor because one of them was wearing a T-shirt with Bosnia’s flag on it.

Several cars, most of them owned by Bosniak returnees, were also set on fire in the Prijedor area recently.

Town officials told BIRN that it was clear that the number of incidents in the last few months has exceeded the total number in the past few years.

For this reason, Prijedor mayor Marko Pavic held an urgent meeting on Monday with representatives of different religious communities to discuss the security situation.

The meeting apparently failed to calm down tensions.

Following the incident on Wednesday, the chief imam of one of Prijedor's mosques, Omer Redzic, wrote on social networks that he had requested both Serb and Bosniak politicians in Prijedor to "finally start doing their job.

"Mr. Mayor... the time has come for you to punish these thugs," Redzic said. "This has become unbearable."

The incident has also caused anger among Bosniaks that is visible on all social networks and local web portals, including comments amounting to open warmongering and demands for revenge.

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