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01 May 1994 The Observer Page 26 Ed Vulliamy.pdf


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and children - Muslims caught in villages the Serbs were leaving. The
pathologist who inspected the corpses said they had been shot at close
range with automatic weapons some had been buried alongside farm
animals.
Mostar was traditionally Ottoman and Muslim, but had sizeable Serb and
Croat minorities by the turn of the century. After the Second World
War, Tito's industrialisation programmes brought in a wave of
Croatians. The Muslims remained, marginally, the majority population
when Bosnia's war began. Mostar was then one of Bosnia's most
beautiful cities. Nestled deep in the Neretva valley, it was home to
some of the finest Ottoman mosques anywhere, its riverbanks linked by
a glorious high-arched bridge. Its architect, Hajrudin, was threatened
with execution by his patron, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, if the
bridge, built in the 16th century, ever fell down. And Hajrudin did
his work well: the bridge - which has graced a million tourist
postcards - survived 30 earthquakes. In the summer of 1992 anxious
citizens covered it with a corrugated iron roof and hung it with car
tyres in an effort to protect it from Serbian shelling, which began
reliably and ferociously each evening.
The liberation of East Mostar concealed the imminent break-up of the
alliance between the Croats and Bosnian Army. The Croatians in Bosnia
had been fighting to their own agenda. With the backing of Zagreb,
they had embarked on their own racial-political project: a Croatian
state within Bosnia called 'Herzeg-Bosna' Mostar would be its capital.
It took some time for the Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban to stamp his
authority on the hills of 'Herzeg-Bosna' and to collect the farrago of
thugs and militias on its territory into a single Croatian Army. But
in Mostar, as the 'Herzeg-Bosna' project got into full swing, the
Croat priority was no longer the Serbs it was the Muslims and the
Bosnian Government Army with whom they had liberated the city, and
against whom they now turned.
In October 1992, on the day that Croatian militias began the
systematic and brutal 'ethnic cleansing' of Muslims in Prozor, central
Bosnia, the HVO in Mostar put out a statement saying it would not
tolerate any 'Muslim extremists' living in any area where there were
Croatian citizens. The HVO command simultaneously declared that it no
longer recognised the legitimacy of the Sarajevo government or its
defence forces. Three days later the HVO gave the Government Army an
ultimatum: either to come under direct Croatian control or to hand
over its weapons to the HVO. 'I do not recognise the army of the
republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina,' declared Mate Boban. 'We, the HVO,
are the only effective army in the free territory. If they want to
call themselves the Bosnian Army, that's their business. They must
come under our authority.'
The HVO commander, Miljenko Lasic, sent troops fanning out across
Mostar in trucks to take over the courthouse, police station, post
office and telephone buildings. Inside the cordon sanitaire of
beer-swilling clods around his headquarters, he explained over a glass
of duty-free Scotch that his Croatian troops would be 'much stronger
and better organised if we removed the Bosnian Army altogether from