Bosnia Tenses as Serb 'Coup' Quashed by NATO
International observers say weekend vote will proceed, but boycotts appear likely.
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — The tables were turned on the political allies of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Banja Luka Tuesday, as angry residents threw eggs and rocks at their vehicles after trapping them in their hotel for most of the day.
Momcilio Krajisnik, the Serb representative to the joint Bosnian presidency, was trapped along with three other top officials for several hours. Local police units loyal to his rival, Banja Luka-based Biljana Plavsic, president of the Serb Republic held back an a mob of local citizens with the help of British peacekeeping forces.
The standoff ended when NATO peacekeepers escorted the four men and some 70 of their bodyguards from the hotel. They are now believed to have safely returned to the eastern half of the Bosnian Serb entity, which is under their control.
In a separate development, the main Bosnia Croat party, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), has announced it is boycotting this weekend's municipal elections. David Foley, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said in Sarajevo Wednesday that the elections would go ahead.
"Any party who refuses to take part will simply lose," he said. Mr. Foley would not comment on the nature of HDZ's concerns. It is believed that the party is worried that Muslims will win the municipal vote in the divided city of Mostar. The Bosnian Serbs may also announce a boycott following the events in Banja Luka.
Mr. Krajisnik, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic, former police chief Dragan Kijac, and speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament Dragan Kalinic - who together with Karadzic are known as "the five Ks" - were in Banja Luka to be present at a massive rally. Their presence is widely assumed to have been part of an organized attempt to overthrow Mrs. Plavsic, who has pledged support for the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. A State Department spokesman in Washington called the move a coup attempt.
Troops of the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) turned back upward of 100 buses Monday heading for Banja Luka from eastern parts of the Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska, when it was discovered that many passengers were carrying rocks and other weapons.
Jacques Klein, the US special envoy who helped negotiate a peaceful outcome to the crisis, confirmed that many armed plainclothes police were on the buses, and that passengers had been promised money upon their return from the rally.
"This made me question if this was really a municipal rally...," Mr. Klein said, later agreeing that the rally was an attempt to unseat Plavsic.
Krajisnik and his allies were only saved from serious harm due to the intervention of local police loyal to Plavsic and SFOR troops brought in by Klein.
Krajisnik was apparently shaken. It took several hours to persuade Krajisnik and 13 others to leave. He was concerned that he and other members of his group might be on the secret list of war crimes indictees and could be arrested by SFOR.
When Krajisnik, Kijac, and Mr. Klickovic finally departed in their own vehicles (with SFOR escort) they were pelted with eggs and rocks by the angry mob.
Klein said all 91 persons escorted from the hotel were later screened for war crimes charges. All were released, indicating that Kijac is not wanted by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague.
The events in Banja Luka appear to have strengthened Plavsic, who has wide support in Banja Luka and other western areas. It underscores the growing divisions between the halves of the Serb Republic, connected by a thin strip of land in the north of Bosnia.