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More Sleaze Revelations From Independent Media In Sarajevo

Sarajevo's independent media keep on uncovering more sleaze in the ruling Bosnian Muslim party, adding to the worries of its aging leader.
By Janez Kovac

Almost every day further revelations of corruption, electoral manipulation and sleaze appear in the Sarajevo media, putting the ruling Muslim party and its leader, Alija Izetbegovic under ever increasing pressure.


The latest edition of Slobodna Bosna, the muck-raking Sarajevo weekly, published an interview with a former Bosnian Army commander in which he alleged that he had been employed by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) to help rig elections.


Refik Brdjanovic, commander of the war-time unit 'Black Wolves' from the northeastern town of Kalesija, told Slobodna Bosna that over the past years, he and several thousand of his colleagues have been bussed all over Bosnia to swell the turn-out at SDA rallies and to ensure that the crowd cheered when SDA candidates' names were announced.


Brdjanovic said that he had been initially recruited by Halid Genjac, an SDA vice-president, who instructed him to threaten, bribe and use "all other necessary means" to force influential people across northern Bosnia to vote for the SDA. He was eager to work for the party in return for a promise of employment for former members of his unit.


Brdjanovic fell out with the SDA when it refused to pay him for building materials he had distributed at his own expense among voters on the party's instruction. "They (the SDA) asked me to distribute construction material so that people would vote for them, which I did," he said, adding: "When the moment came for somebody to pay, they forgot I had ever done it."


Since the rift, the SDA has not only cut ties with him but also sent the financial police to close down the small construction company he had founded with several of his war-time friends, Brdjanovic said. Moreover, he would be showing international officials documents that would prove what he had told the newspaper.


With this and many similar reports emerging in local and international media recently, it seems increasingly that next year's elections will be the most difficult for the SDA and Izetbegovic.


Last weekend, Sarajevo canton police arrested Alemko Nuhanovic, one of the Bosnian capital's top war-time "businessmen" with close ties to the SDA. During the siege of Sarajevo, when a kilo of sugar sold for 70 German marks ($39) and liter of diesel for 40 ($22), Nuhanovic had a virtual monopoly on this lucrative trade.


Now he has been charged with earning a profit of more than 11 million German marks ($6.1 million) by fraud and illegal activities, as well as evading tax to the tune of some 500,000 German marks ($271,000).


In another incident, a group of unidentified inspectors from the Federal Financial Police sent a public letter to several Bosnian and international officials, claiming that two of their senior commanders misappropriated previously confiscated goods worth 5 million German marks ($2.8 million).


Meanwhile, the saga of the Mujahedeen terrorist arrested with Bosnian passport in Turkey refuses to die down. The Bosnian Foreign Ministry had to deny a report published in the weekly magazine Dani, which alleged that the world's most notorious Islamic terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, possessed a Bosnian passport which had been issued by the embassy in Vienna in 1993.


In the original article, Dani reported that it expected an official denial since the Bosnian Foreign Ministry has been destroying all evidence that it ever granted citizenship to Bin Laden and other Islamic fighters who use Bosnian passports to travel to Western countries.


With the pressure on Izetbegovic rising by the day, many Bosnians have begun to speculate about the state of his health. On Izetbegovic's return from a private visit to the Middle East during which he was admitted to hospital in Saudi Arabia, his close aide, Mirza Hajric, told reporters that the Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency was in good health and that the hospital visit was just "a regular medical check-up".


In recent years Izetbegovic has suffered two mild heart attacks. Sources in the medical team which cared for Izetbegovic following his second heart attack in February 1996 say that the 74-year-old Bosnian Muslim leader, who has recently lost weight and appears tired, can only expect to live for another two years, unless he stops working immediately.


Izetbegovic has said on several occasions that he would like to step down from the Bosnian presidency and remain only as leader of his party. However, many local and international analysts believe he will be forced to continue working and may even decide to stand in the 2000 presidential elections, because he lacks a successor and his withdrawal from public life would seriously damage the SDA's prospects.


Janez Kovac is a pseudonym for an independent journalist from Sarajevo.


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