Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnia: US Issues Blacklist

International community takes steps to tackle those suspected of holding up peace process.
By Gordana Katana

The United States has frozen the assets of scores of alleged Balkan criminals, politicians and businessmen thought to be undermining efforts to bring stability to Bosnia.

US president George W Bush issued an executive order to that effect on May 28, listing 150 individuals obstructing the peace process for their own ends.

The list includes the fugitive Radovan Karadzic, wartime Bosnian Serb leader and number one war crimes suspect, as well as his entire family, together with former Croatian Democratic Party, HDZ, leader Ante Jelavic – who was removed from his post in the tripartite presidency and banned from running for public office in 2001.

A number of senior Bosnian Muslim politicians and businessmen such as Hasan Cengic, Senad Sahinpasic-Saja and Bakir Alispahic are also named.

According to IWPR sources in the US embassy in Sarajevo, the list is not final and will be expanded in the future. Those named will have their assets in the America frozen and will be banned from traveling to the country.

In addition, according to several European officials and diplomats, EU countries are preparing to take similar action against people on its own list of people undermining stability in the region.

Seven years after the end of the war, the West seems to have finally lost its patience with those who are believed to be holding up the peace process for their own private or political advantage.

While most named in the US list refused to comment, others spoke openly of their shock and anger.

Djojo Arsenic, a Republika Srpska, RS, parliamentary deputy from the ruling nationalist Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, told the media that his inclusion was a complete surprise to him, adding, “Anyway, I don’t travel anywhere, nor do I have any assets they can confiscate.”

Sahinpasic-Saja, a leading businessman, told Dnevni Avaz that he had mixed feelings about being named.

“I am saddened by the fact that [I have been named] on the same list as the worst destroyers and killers of my country and my people, “ he said. “However, that is the fate of the defenders of Bosnia. Many exceptional people are already paying this price - so I too will pay it with pleasure”.

But Bosnia’s wartime interior minister Bakir Alispahic, who became a successful businessman after the conflict ended, was furious with his inclusion. “It is unbelievable that I am on the same list as criminals and terrorists whom the US has not arrested for so many years now. Nobody has ever produced any valid evidence against me,” he told the title.

In a statement to Federal Television, FTV, Christopher Hoh, the US embassy’s charge d’affaires, said that the executive order and its list had been investigated, checked and double-checked for over a six-month period by America’s treasury and justice departments, adding, “I am convinced that everyone who is on the list deserves to be on it and I believe the process will continue as investigations proceed.”

While the ruling nationalist parties did their best to gloss over the US move, opposition parties seized on it with glee. Krstan Simic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, said, “I believe that any public figure whose name is placed on such a list should resign immediately before they discredit the institutions they belong to.”

This is not the first such intervention by Washington this year. On March 7, the US blocked the assets of Momcilo Mandic and Miroslav Cicko Bjelica, two Bosnian Serbs believed to be close to Karadzic.

But property and businesses in Bosnia belonging to Bjelica and Mandic - currently in detention in Serbia on suspicion of involvement with the Zemun crime gang, which has been implicated in the murder of Zoran Djindjic - remain untouched.

The Bosnian judiciary has not yet received details of the evidence that this list may contain. Local judge Vlado Adamovic said the judiciary can only act once it gets this evidence.

Many Bosnians have greeted the blacklist of people undermining the peace process with quiet approval. Only a few years ago, any such move would have provoked demonstrations or even violence.

Gordana Katana is a VOA correspondent in Banja Luka and Sead Numanovic is journalist with the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz.