Simmering Hatreds Block Creation of ‘Democratic’ Police in Bosnia


As international monitors announced guidelines for creating “democratic” police forces in peacetime Bosnia last week, there was new proof that wartime abuses continue:

* Bosnian Serb police refused to stop what officials described as the worst wave of Serbian “ethnic cleansing” since the U.S.-brokered accord was signed nearly six months ago.

* A uniformed Bosnian Croat policeman shot a Muslim motorist in the head when the driver tried to go from one ethnic enclave to another, as permitted in the peace accord’s freedom-of-movement provisions. The motorist died Friday.

* The Muslim-led Sarajevo government passed a law last week formalizing a secret-police agency involved recently in Iranian-sponsored terrorist training.


These and similar developments during the past week dramatize the wide gulf between the lofty goals of international peacekeepers and the troubling reality on the ground that each day seems to chip away at the accord.

Not the least of those goals, outlined Thursday, is the U.N. International Police Task Force’s daunting mission of transforming Bosnian police departments from paramilitary instruments of political control and repression into legitimate police officers committed to protecting and serving.

A restructuring task of this scope has never been tried before, Police Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald of Ireland said in an interview. It is vital to lasting peace and the rule of law in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But fresh reports of Muslims being driven from their homes in the north-central Serb-held town of Teslic show that the police--and their political masters--are still much more a part of the problem than the solution.

More than 100 families endured telephone threats, beatings and explosives tossed onto their properties before fleeing villages around Teslic for territory controlled by the Muslim-Croat federation, U.N. officials said.

Most of the victims blamed the violence on demobilized Bosnian Serb soldiers and Bosnian Serb refugees who had been displaced from other parts of Bosnia, according to U.N. refugee workers who interviewed the fleeing families. And all said they turned to the local Bosnian Serb police for help, to no avail.

“The Serb police said they couldn’t help them and that if they wanted to keep their heads, they should leave,” U.N. case worker Anna Mette Philipsen said.

Initially, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its civilian peacekeeping counterpart showed little eagerness to take action to stop the Teslic “ethnic cleansing,” a practice common during the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war that uses intimidation, brutality and sometimes murder to drive an ethnic group from a region.


It was practiced by all sides but most systematically by the Bosnian Serbs.

By the weekend, NATO spokesmen said they will investigate the Teslic episode.

Mediators and U.N. officials said the renewed “ethnic cleansing” is only the latest sign of how deeply entrenched the Bosnian Serb resistance to ethnic reconciliation is--so deep, in fact, that the removal of a few indicted war crimes suspects at the top of the Bosnian Serb leadership may not be enough to change the mentality.

“It has to do with the fact that we are dealing with a closed society, one that seems to be closing even more,” said Colum Murphy, spokesman for the international office in charge of implementing the peace agreement. "[The hostility] comes from the top; it runs all the way through.”


Bosnian Serb police in recent weeks have routinely blocked refugees trying to return home, as called for in the peace pact, and have incited crowds to attack refugees making the attempt. Croatian and Muslim police have also blocked some returns. And last month, U.N. officials denounced the torture of seven Muslim suspects held by Bosnian Serb police.

Despite a track record that includes recalcitrance and abuse, the Bosnian Serb police would continue to exist under the new U.N. police guidelines but would submit to retraining and downsizing.

Sources say the Bosnian Serbs have refused thus far to accept any reduction of their force, said to now number about 12,000. The recommended size is about 6,000 or 7,000, sources involved in the proposed restructuring said.

Fitzgerald, the commissioner, said he is “reasonably confident” that a vetting procedure in place would rid both Bosnian police forces of their worst elements.


The Muslim-Croat federation has in theory accepted the guidelines, Fitzgerald said. Its 20,000-strong police force will be reduced to 11,500, about 10,000 of which will work at the level of canton, a division similar to a county.

Undoubtedly the biggest problem facing the federation police is the fierce unwillingness of the two factions, the Muslims and Croats, to cooperate with each other.

So far they have disagreed on things as basic as the color of their uniforms.

Bosnian Croat and Muslim legislators clashed last week over a law that formalized a secret-police unit, known as the Agency for Investigation and Documentation. Agents for the unit were caught in February at what NATO called an Iranian-operated “terrorist training camp” north of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, and U.S. officials vigorously protested the covert operation.


The law was passed by the Muslim-majority parliament, over Croats’ objections that Muslim hard-liners in the government of President Alija Izetbegovic would use the agency to spy on Croats.

The U.N. guidelines issued last week state that there is “no role for secret-police functions in day-to-day law enforcement in the federation.”

“Most countries have an anti-subversive unit, and depending on the country, it is either a properly professional police force or a bunch of thugs,” Fitzgerald said. “We can’t stop them from creating it, but they can’t call it police.”

Among the other standards set forth by the U.N. task force are requirements that the police be community-based, accountable to the public, responsive and respectful of human rights--concepts quite foreign to local police here.


Fitzgerald said a massive retraining program is essential. But neither the money nor the people to conduct the training have been lined up yet, he said.