Reconciliation stumbles over a stone
By Cpl. Sébastien Pisani
Violent demonstrations prevented the groundbreaking
ceremony for the reconstruction of the main mosque in Banja Luka
May 7. SFOR had not been engaged but was permanently ready for
intervention if necessary.
Banja Luka - Visitors are quite rare at Banja Luka CIMIC House. Two British Warriors are parked on the opposite pavement May 7. In a neighbouring garden, the platoon commanded by 2nd Lt. Harry Torrance, from the B Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets, is waiting for orders.
arrived in BiH, the men exchange some information. "The ceremony
should begin at 11.30 a.m.," one of them said to his companions.
Eyes looked up suddenly toward the sky. Behind the Canadian Griffin,
which flew in circles over the capital of Republika Srpska (RS),
thick black smoke was rising in the sky. "A vehicle has been
set on fire," Torrance announced. A silence fell on the small
Hundreds of metres from there in the town centre, over 3,000 Bosnian-Serb demonstrators gathered; their aim was to prevent the ground-breaking ceremony during which the first stone of the Ferhadija would be laid. The Ferhadija was a XVIth century mosque destroyed in 1993.
"According to its mandate, SFOR is ready to
intervene to maintain a safe and secure environment. SFOR troops
have been reinforced with 130 soldiers of the S Company of the
Royal Green Jackets from Mrkonjic-Grad and four platoons of Multinational
Specialised Unit (MSU)," said Lt. Col. Worsley, commander
of the British Battle Group. About 400 local policemen maintained
security on the square where the ceremony should have taken place.
Outside, stones and bottles damaged shop windows
and vehicles. The Czech helicopter sent to the spot to extract
guests surrounded in the Islamic community building tried to land,
but it had to turn back because the operation was made risky by
the presence of the hostile crowd.
were in contact with the police, with a senior military officer
located in the police headquarters. The situation in Banja Luka
was a police issue. It would be inappropriate for us to not allow
the police to fulfil their duties, responsibilities and obligations.
SFOR intervention only would have occurred if the police had completely
failed to resolve the situation," said Canadian Capt. Andrew
Coxhead, SFOR spokesperson.
At the end of the day, peace had returned in Banja Luka, but bitterness stung. "It seems truly inconceivable, that after five years of peace in this country there are still people who cannot tolerate the faith and belief of others," Coxhead said. Ferhadija still waits for its hour to be reborn of its ashes.