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Bosnia: SFOR Frees Suspected Extremist - IWPR

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  • Zafar Khan
    Bosnia: SFOR Frees Suspected Extremist http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/bcr3/bcr3_200301_402_1_eng.txt The NATO-led peacekeepers decision to release a
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2003
      Bosnia: SFOR Frees Suspected Extremist


      The NATO-led peacekeepers' decision to release a
      Muslim accused of links to al-Qaeda may not be enough
      to ease fears of human rights abuses.

      By Nermina Durmic-Kahrovic in Maoca (BCR No 402,

      NATO-led peacekeeping troops have released a suspected
      Islamic extremist they had been holding for three
      months without charge.

      Sabahudin Fiuljanin was handed over to the local
      authorities on January 30 after an outcry over the
      circumstances of his detention.

      Amnesty International, the Bosnian government and the
      country's top human rights court had claimed that
      NATO's Stabilisation Force, SFOR, had flouted the 1995
      Dayton peace agreement - which states that troops
      should maintain stability but not overrule local law -
      and that the its anti-terror campaign had led to a
      number of civil liberties abuses.

      Bosnian law allows a suspect to be held without charge
      for 30 days - but Fiuljanin had been detained for
      three times that period. He was allowed to see a
      lawyer only twice, and was denied family visits
      throughout his incarceration.

      Fiuljanin, a resident of Maoca, was arrested on
      suspicion of spying and accused of links to al-Qaeda
      in November, when he was allegedly discovered in front
      of an SFOR base in Tuzla with anti-tank weapons in his

      Amnesty International spoke out strongly against
      SFOR's decision to hold him without charge after the
      30-day limit, stating, "The obligation to respect
      human rights applies to all members of international
      and inter-governmental organisations exercising law
      enforcement functions - including NATO."

      Bosnia's Human Rights Chamber demanded on January 11
      that SFOR hand over Fijuljanin to the Bosnian
      authorities, claiming that local and international law
      had been violated. The country's tripartite presidency
      made a similar call.

      SFOR had refused to comply with these requests, but
      freed their prisoner on the grounds that the local
      authorities could now take over the investigation.

      Following Fiuljanin's release, his lawyer Osman
      Mulahalilovic told the media that his client had
      handed in all his weapons in October following an

      While Fiuljanin was expected to give a statement to
      the local police, it is uncertain if further charges
      will be pressed against him. SFOR spokesman Major
      Shawn Mill told journalists at a press conference on
      January 30 that there was an "on going investigation"
      into the Fiuljanin case, and that they still
      considered the suspect to be an "extremist".

      His arrest had sparked a series of SFOR patrols and
      house searches in Bosnia, as part of a crackdown on
      suspected extremists. This pressure allegedly forced
      around ten Maoca families to flee their homes earlier
      this month.

      "Those families had to leave in the midst of such a
      harsh winter," complained Sulejman Osojkic, a member
      of the dwindling Muslim community.

      "They [SFOR] claim that they are for democracy and
      human rights, and call us extremists. Why - am I an
      enemy of SFOR?"

      While the Maoca community includes a number of radical
      Muslims who fought during the war in Bosnia, they deny
      all links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.
      Locally, they are known as Vehabije - a name given to
      those who follow puritanical interpretations of Islam.

      Police and other local officials in the Tuzla canton -
      which has jurisdiction in the area - have repeatedly
      said that the community did not pose a threat.

      "So far we have not had any incidents or complaints
      about members of this group from their neighbours, nor
      people of different nationalities who live with them.
      There are no indications that they represent a special
      danger to the safety of the area or the community they
      belong to," Tuzla police commissioner Ivica Divkovic
      told IWPR.

      He said the Maoca community was made up of Bosnian
      citizens and Muslims from neighbouring Yugoslavia.
      Locals say there are around 20 such families still
      living in the area.

      SFOR spokesman Major John Dowling explained that the
      increased SFOR activity was part of Operation Harvest,
      which was designed to collect illegally stashed
      weapons from the war, and had nothing to do with
      targeting Muslim radicals.

      He added that the NATO-led force had received no
      complaints from any of the locals, and insisted that
      its activities had been misinterpreted. "SFOR treats
      all people equally - we have no preference for any
      ethnicity, religion or nationality," he said.

      But Admir Mujkanovic, president of the municipality
      that includes Maoca, told IWPR he had warned SFOR a
      few months ago that residents were being upset by the
      frequent patrols and late night helicopter flights.
      "They told me this would not happen again, but that
      has remained just a promise," he said.

      Nermina Durmic Kahrovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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