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Bosnia: Mostar Police Reunited

Croat and Muslim police work together again in the country's most divided city.
By Zvonimir Jukic

A multi-ethnic police force has finally taken over in Mostar, one of Bosnia's bitterly divided city, in a step which could signal greater toleration throughout the country.


It might also herald harder times for criminals who up to now have enjoyed skipping freely between a patchwork of six different police authorities, many of which hardly even spoke to each other.


"The fight against crime will become more efficient, public money will be saved for other priorities," said Jacques Paul Klein, head of the UN mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as the new Mostar police force prepared to start work earlier this month.


It took seven years of painful negotiation to bring together the Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) and Croat police administrations. During the war, Mostar became a byword for fierce ethnic conflict. Afterwards, the city was regarded as a test case for post-war reconciliation.


Klein said that police merger "serves as a precedent for future negotiations in other institutions throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina".


Police forces across the country split along ethnic lines at the beginning of the war in 1992. Bosnian Croats and Muslims in Mostar initially stood together against a common enemy - the Bosnian Serbs. But in1993, they turned against each other and fought a bloody war within a war. The city became divided into a Croat half in the west and a Muslim part in the east.


Under strong international pressure, Bosnia's Croats and Muslims signed a treaty in Washington in 1994 to form the Bosnian Federation. But ethnic mistrust smouldered on long after the fighting stopped. At every turn, local politicians obstructed reunification of key administrations and services.


As a result, the police force split between six miniscule administrations - one for each sector of the city. Bosnian Croats and Muslims each dominated three municipalities. To make things worse, the central district was left with no police at all.


Crime flourished in the latter where traders and smugglers sold illegal merchandise with impunity. And returning refugees found themselves without police protection.


The UN and other international institutions started negotiations on police reunification immediately after the war. But it took four years just to get rival forces to use the same radio frequencies. That was followed by pilot projects to exchange police officers from different municipalities and departments.


With the arrival in June 2000 of a moderate Mostar mayor, Neven Tomic, cooperation between Muslims and Croats improved. Late last year, the mayor launched a project called "One City - One Police".


The project required the abolition of the six municipal police sectors and the formation of a single, citywide Mostar Police Department, MPD, comprising northern, southern and central areas together with a traffic police station.


Speaking at the ceremony to mark completion of the merger process, mayor Tomic and his deputy Hamdija Jahic agreed that creation of a single city police force should lead to the general reunification of Mostar.


"After this there will be no more cases in which criminals escape from one part of the city to another because a pursuing police car cannot chase them across a municipal boundary," said police spokesman Sead Brankovic.


Mostar citizens welcomed the police merger. Many hope it will cut crime. Others remain cautious. "I will start believing it when I see more criminals are ending up behind bars," said pensioner Ivan Zovko.


Zvonimir Jukic is Mostar correspondent for Nezavisne Novine, as well as for ONASA news agency.