Bosnia: mob violence endangers reconciliation efforts
UNHCR is outraged by mob violence which prevented international and local officials yesterday from laying the cornerstone for the reconstruction of a 16th century Mosque in Banja Luka - the main city of Republika Srpska, one of the two constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was the second such incident in just three days. International and local officials see the reconstruction of mosques as a powerful symbol of ethnic reconciliation in Republika Srpska. The Farhadija Mosque in Banja Luka had been blown up during the 1992-1995 Bosnia war, along with every other mosque in the city, in an effort by ethnic Serb militants to erase any trace of Islamic culture in Banja Luka. The area saw some of the most brutal "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The violent demonstration yesterday dealt a blow to the effort to reconcile Bosnia's former foes.
Three UNHCR workers, including the head of UNHCR in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the head of its Banja Luka office, as well as other senior international officials who went to Banja Luka for the stone laying ceremony, were trapped in the Islamic Community Centre in Banja Luka for hours after several thousand people broke through police lines and surrounded the building, torching vehicles and throwing stones. The violence in Banja Luka follows a similar incident on Saturday in Trebinje in eastern Herzegovina.