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Arson in Stolac

By 1st Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#128, December 12, 2001

On the night of Dec. 3 a group of about 25 Bosnian Croats attacked and burned the wooden fence that surrounded a mosque reconstruction site in Stolac. Local police - monitored by the International Police Task Force (IPTF) - arrested two of them.

Stolac - The Emperor's Mosque, also called "Careva," was one of the monuments that were destroyed in the last war; B-Croats sold each stone. Now the Bosniacs have recovered the material and are restoring it. The monument was built during the Ottoman Empire, over a Christian Church site in the 16th century. The site is on the list of national monuments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and has already been the scene of unrest when reconstruction began in June this year.
Initial disturbances
Nobody knew for sure what the trigger was that sparked off the recent riots. According to local sources, however, it could have been a clash between a B-Croat and a construction worker. On Dec. 3, a stone was thrown from the building site which hit and wounded an inhabitant. Later that day a group of about 25 people arrived at the site, dismantled the wooden fence and set it on fire. The disturbances took place between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. The local Federation police were present but could not prevent it. A large number of Muslim people had gathered in the area and the police sought to avoid an escalation of violence. An SFOR platoon from the Spanish Battle Group (SBG) was parked in the outskirts of Stolac to give cover to the IPTF and local police. At the end of the riots, local police arrested two B-Croats. But during the night they managed to escape without anyone's knowledge.
Continuing riots
This detention was the reason for the bigger demonstration on the following night. The local police, however, had been reinforced with a unit of riot police. During the night the two escapees and two others gave themselves up and were held in the central police station in Mostar.
The next morning the situation in Stolac was of total calm, the only evidence of the night before being the embers of bonfires and the presence of riot officers in the police station. The local police by then had the situation under control.
The SBG continued to park out of sight of the public so that they could provide cover to the IPTF and police without aggravating the situation. Only during the night did a platoon with armoured personnel carriers patrol the town. This was done in a non-threatening manner in order to create a safe and secure environment.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: Spain
SFOR at Work