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Croatia Terrorism Fears

Right-wing militants are suspected of a spate of terrorist attacks
By Dragutin Hedl

An outbreak of terrorism blamed on far-right nationalists has raised

fears in Zagreb that Croatia might suffer the same fate that Britain and Spain experienced at the hands of the IRA and ETA.

A couple of incidents last month - a bomb explosion outside the Zagreb municipal offices and the shooting of mafia boss, Vjeko Slisak - are believed to be the work of right-wing extremists with possible links to the former ruling HDZ party.

There are growing suspicions the HDZ is seeking to obtain by violence what it lost at the ballot box.

Last month's explosions are the latest in a series of bomb attacks around the country.

Last August, war crimes witness Milan Levar, who spoke openly about atrocities committed by the Croatian army against Serbian civilians in 1991, was blown up in Gospic.

Two other bombs were planted in Zagreb in December. One was found by a cleaner at a Serbian orthodox church who, not realising what it was, dumped it in a rubbish bin. It later exploded in a garbage truck. Police discovered the other in a trash container at Zagreb's busy main market, Dolaca.

Then, in February, another explosion destroyed a monument to anti-fascist fighters at the city's Mirogoj cemetery.

It was only after last month's bombing that police began suspecting extremists connected to the HDZ.

Officers now believe that the Zagreb attacks appear to have been aimed at undermining the Social Democratic Party, SDP, which holds power in the city.

" It's no coincidence that bombs have now targeted the building where SDP governs and the anti-fascist monument which is of symbolic importance to the party," said leading Split sociologist, Drazen Lalic.

The SDP wants to rehabilitate Croatian anti-fascists - a move opposed by the HDZ which has long glorified Croatia's Second World War Ustasa movement.

During the rein of ex president Franjo Tudjman, officials sought to expunge all record of the anti-fascist tradition. References to it were even barred from Croatian textbooks.

After the HDZ's electoral defeat last year, the new government immediately took steps to reverse the trend. One of its first was to restore Zagreb's main square, The Square of Croatian Heroes, to its old name, The Square of Victims of Fascism.

Vladimir Seks, one of the HDZ party's far-right leaders who was deputy president of the Croatian parliament under Tudjman, recently declared the authorities "ought to be ousted by all available means".

Seks was speaking at one of a number of far-right rallies officially held in support of General Mirko Norac who was summoned by the Croatian judicial authorities to face charges of committing atrocities against Serbian civilians in Gospic in 1991.

The real aim of the demonstrations, however, was to overthrow the six-party ruling coalition.

" These people are attempting to achieve political aims through terrorist actions - but they will be rejected by the electorate, " said Lalic. " Local elections are due in Croatia within the next two months and the ruling coalition parties are expected to triumph."

The extreme-right link to the recent bombing outrages has been strengthened by the Zagreb gangster shooting.

Croatian media in recent months have been pointing out that the Mafia has been recruited from the secret service, special police and army units who served under Tudjman.

Press reports claim the underworld has close links with some sacked Croatian generals and members of the secret service who in turn maintain strong ties with the police.

Investigators searching the flat of the slain gangster boss found a secret police report concerning a rival mafia gang, suggesting a link between the Mafia and the police.

Slisak's assassin James Marty Cappiau - who was shot and fatally wounded by the mobster's bodyguard - is a Belgian citizen who came to Zagreb in 1991 at the invitation of Croatian army General Ante Rosa. They'd both served in the French Foreign Legion.

Cappiau, who was later given Croatian citizenship, quickly became well connected with the defence ministry and was involved in lucrative arms trading. He is thought to have supplied weapons to the Chechen army during their conflict with Russia.

Cappiau clearly enjoyed a high degree of official protection. In 1996, at a restaurant near Osijek, he killed a man and was quickly set free on grounds that he acted in self-defence.

When the government came to power early last year, it

refrained from purging HDZ sympathisers from the secret service, the military top brass and the police.

At the time, the coalition feared it might be accused of taking revenge. Now, its leaders are ruefully reflecting this may have been a mistake.

Dragutin Hedl is a regular IWPR contributor

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