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COMSFOR, High representative address Mostar, Grude unrest

By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#111, April 18, 2001

Bosnian-Croats gathered in large numbers and caused riots in southern areas April 6. This was sparked by investigations of several bank branches suspected of links to the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) by international organisations.
Sarajevo - Top officials from the international organisations responded to a demonstration by approximately 1,000 disgruntled protesters that resulted in total chaos and disarray on the streets of Mostar and other areas April 6.
COMSFOR Lt. Gen. Michael Dodson and High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch addressed concerns during a press conference April 7.
"The high representative asked SFOR to support the installation of a provisional administrator in order to secure Hercegovacka Banka," Dodson said. "Specifically, SFOR was asked to provide a safe and secure environment for the inspection teams from the OHR and Federation of BiH auditors." The teams were sent to carry out investigations in Orasje, Vitez, Tomislavgrad, Posusje, Siroki Brijeg, Grude, Medjugorje and Mostar, where the banks were believed to be controlled by Bosnian-Croats.
Twenty-two SFOR soldiers sustained minor injuries as a result of the riots. In Grude, 10 SFOR and civilian personnel were held hostage.
"I want to make very clear that the operation to stabilise the bank is continuing," Petritsch said. "The documents secured will undergo analysis by the Federation. He added that his staff made every effort to collect the bank documents in such a way that the bank would be re-opened as quickly as possible.
"The bank robbers (April 6) were well-organised B-Croats who broke into the main branch of Hercegovacka Banka in Mostar and other places … they robbed the very people they claim to represent," Petritsch said. The high representative expressed his dismay at the treatment of members of his staff by the separatists.
"One of my staff was hiding in the bathroom with the mob outside trying to break the door down." In Grude gunmen took several Federation and international personnel hostage. "Forced confessions were extracted from several of the hostages in which they were made to say on camera that they had been forced by the international community to audit these banks.
"Let me state this very clearly, this is a lie and shows just how ruthless these people are," he said. "One investigator was taken outside and threatened with execution. We have secured these people's release. But I'm sorry to say I thought such horrible and frightening accounts … would have ended five years ago with the end of the war."
Dodson said those who incited the unrest had total disregard for the very group of people they claim to represent. He said they also put innocent members of the community in unnecessary danger and caused injury to their own people.
"Had it not been for the disciplined and highly professional approach of the SFOR soldiers and those members of IPTF and the local police in support of the high representative, there is no doubt the damage to property and people would have been much greater," Dodson said. "And had this been the case, those who whipped up the sort of turmoil that we saw in parts would have been entirely responsible."
Petritsch praised the actions and bravery of the citizens who assisted his staff by hiding them in their homes and washing the tear gas out of their eyes.
Both COMSFOR and the high representative made it evident that this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable.
"Let me be clear, I will not hold any dialogue with extremists who use violence … to gain their end," Petritsch said. "Neither I nor COMSFOR will tolerate mob rule. These mobs were clearly organised and must face the full weight of the law."
"In a free society, those who commit fraud, corruption and practice illegal activities are all invariably brought to justice," Dodson said. "This concept may be alien to the selfish minority, but the people that they affect the most are the very people whom they allegedly represent."
The SFOR commander stated that minimum force was used in this operation "out of respect for and consistent with the sort of behaviour it might expect to find in law-abiding citizens."
"SFOR does have the capability of overwhelming force, but when you go downtown to a town like Mostar or Grude, you expect to encounter perhaps inquisitive citizens and some who, perhaps, are angry because they seem to lack the knowledge of what's going on," he explained. "For that reason we tried to be as gentle as we could. In hindsight had we known that this was going to be a … mob … we might have acted differently.
"Out of respect for the people, we didn't want to go in there with tremendous force and disrupt the whole city."

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