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Serbs assault U.N. staff in Bosnia

SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- Peace officials have been assaulted by Bosnian Serb nationalist protesters during a ceremony to lay a new cornerstone for a mosque destroyed in the 1992-95 war.

No one was seriously hurt in the assaults in the southern town of Trebinje, on Saturday, but the ceremony had to be abandoned.

In a statement, the United Nations said "demonstrators chanted provocative slogans, carried nationalistic flags and damaged equipment intended for the ceremony."

"It is already apparent that the police in Trebinje did not take adequate measures soon enough to ensure security for the ceremony or prevent the assaults," it added.

U.N. police mission spokesman Douglas Coffman said Serbs attacked several people.

Among the victims was ceremony organiser Daniel Ruiz, a senior aide to post-war Bosnia's international peace overseer, Wolfgang Petritsch.

Protesters pinned Ruiz against a wall and kicked and punched him.

Ruiz was taken to a clinic for treatment. Local radio in nearby Mostar reported several other people injured in the melee.

Petritsch's spokesman Oleg Milisic said Beriz Belkic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's tri-partite presidency, and Karlo Filipovic, the head of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation, as well as several senior Western diplomats were among the guests.

When the delegation arrived, it found several hundreds of Bosnian Serbs at the site, singing nationalist songs, waving black flags and chanting "Kill the Turks!" -- a reference to Bosnia's Muslims.

The delegation moved to the local Islamic Community office downtown for safety, but the mob broke through a police cordon and started throwing stones and bottles at the visitors.

Some in the delegation made it to their cars and rushed off while others took refuge in the Islamic Community office, where they were stuck for a while surrounded by the demonstrators.

Trebinje, 120 kms (72 miles) south of the capital Sarajevo, is in a part of Bosnia's autonomous Serb republic dominated by ultra-nationalists.

Its substantial Slav Muslim population was expelled by Serb separatist forces or fled early in the war.

Trebinje's Osman Pasa mosque was one of 618 destroyed during the war in what is now the Serb republic, according to figures given by Bosnia's Muslim community.

It would be one of the first to be rebuilt since the conflict.

Coffman said the U.N. mission would insist on an inquiry and prosecution of those responsible for the violence.

Petritsch said he was "appalled that more then five years after the war, tolerance and respect for Bosnia-Herzegovina's different faiths have yet to become a matter of course.

"Such a display of uncivilised and brutal behaviour is utterly unacceptable and an embarrassment for the Serb republic," he said in a statement.

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United Nations

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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