KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 19 June 2001.
Reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in communist
and post-communist lands.
______________________________________

BOSNIA: FERHADIJA MOSQUE RECONSTRUCTION STARTED. On
18 June the head of the Islamic Faith Community in Bosnia laid the
foundation stone for the reconstruction of the Ferhadija mosque in Banja
Luka, destroyed in 1993. The previous attempt, on 7 May, was
abandoned amid widespread violence from local Serbs. Dusan Antelj,
religion minister in the Republika Srpska government, told Keston News
Service by telephone from Banja Luka on 19 June: `We had to use strong
police force and serious planning to prevent riots, but we managed to
complete the ceremony without interruption.� �We are all very satisfied.�

BOSNIA: FERHADIJA MOSQUE RECONSTRUCTION STARTED

by Branko Bjelajac, Keston News Service

After the initial attempt on 7 May to lay the foundation stone for the
reconstruction of the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka destroyed in 1993 had
to be abandoned amid widespread violence from local Serbs, the second
attempt was successful. In the presence of leaders of the two entities of
Bosnia, the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Muslim-Croat Federation,
international representatives and the American and British ambassadors, and
under heavy police protection, the Reis-ul-ulema Mustafa Effendi Ceric,
head of the Islamic Faith Community in Bosnia, laid the foundation stone on
18 June on the site of the previous mosque.

`We did it yesterday and we are all very satisfied,' Dusan Antelj, religion
minister in the Republika Srpska government, told Keston News Service by
telephone from Banja Luka on 19 June. `We had to use strong police force
and serious planning to prevent riots, but we managed to complete the
ceremony without interruption. Unfortunately, the last time the whole
situation was highly politicised, and we could not avoid it.'

As organised crowds of Bosnian Serbs prevented the initial laying of the
foundation stone on 7 May, more than 30 people were severely injured and
one died later in hospital, police vehicles and buses were set on fire, and
senior guests were trapped in a building for several hours (see KNS 8 May
2001).

Again on 18 June, minor incidents occurred. Three policemen received
severe injuries, with a further twelve lightly injured. Five demonstrators
were arrested after some 500 angry protesters throwing bottles and stones
attacked the police cordon, shouting `Turks!' `This is Serbia!' `We do not
want mosques!'

The Bosnian Serb authorities were praised for preventing disruption to the
ceremony this time round. `The RS has shown the high level of its
civilisation to the world,' Zlatko Lagumdzija, the country's foreign minister,
declared in a press statement, commending the police for `excellent security
measures'. The RS Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic stated: `This day serves as
a mark of democracy and respect for human rights in the RS.' Reis-ul-ulema
Ceric declared in his speech at the ceremony that `laying the foundation
stone for this mosque means the return of peace and tolerance in Bosnia', the
SRNA agency reported on 18 June.

The Muslim officials and other guests left Banja Luka safely after the
ceremony, but after their departure riots continued until early evening. At
about 2 pm, there was an anonymous claim there was a bomb in the Banja
Luka municipal building, an apparent attempt to disrupt the ceremony close
by, but police confirmed the alarm was false.

Because of the political damage over the 7 May riots, the RS interior
minister resigned and the Banja Luka police chief was replaced. During the
riots Antelj remained with the besieged guests in a building, appealing to the
crowd to calm down.

He now claims the RS government has unilaterally decided to allow the
restoration of religious sites: `Initially, our government tried to make a
reciprocal agreement with representatives of the Muslim-Croat Federation,
but this was not well received in the international community. Therefore, we
have decided to let our religious communities, all four of them: the
Orthodox, the Catholic, the Muslim and the Jewish, build and restore their
religious buildings freely in RS.' As evidence he cited the `instant approval'
given to rebuild several mosques. `For instance, in the town of Kozarac near
Prijedor, one mosque is already completed, and two more are close to
completion. We had no problems with the non-Muslim population at all. In
the town of Gradiska (formerly Bosanska Gradiska) also one mosque is
being built, as well as one in Novi Grad (formerly Bosanski Novi).'

`When there is no politicisation, the situation is calm and normal,' Antelj
continued, `therefore we have decided to issue permits for two new mosque
building projects, in Prnjavor and in Mrkonjic Grad.'

Antelj expects the Muslim-Croat Federation to follow the new policy of the
RS government and allow reconstruction of several Serbian Orthodox
churches and monasteries. `For more than four months we have been waiting
to hear from Federation representatives about our request to rebuild the
Zitomislic monastery, just south of Mostar, but with no response so far,' he
reported. `They have expressed a verbal readiness to allow rebuilding of
Orthodox holy sites, but we have seen no support to the words yet. We are
also planning to rebuild the Orthodox cathedral in Mostar, but this will await
the decision of the Serbian Orthodox Church.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.