In Bosnia, ethnic cleansing scars are difficult to heal
August 31, 1997
Web posted at: 9:51 p.m. EDT (0151 GMT)
BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Duda Dervisic insists
that the only way she'll ever leave Banja Luka is in a
coffin. For this Bosnian Muslim, it is the only place she
calls home. But few former Muslim residents of the city
share her sentiments. Years of ethnic cleansing have created
scars that time perhaps may never completely heal.
Once there were 20,000 Muslims in Banja Luka, the second
largest city in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today, there are perhaps
4,000. Many were killed during the Bosnian civil war, under
the campaign of forced expulsion carried out by Bosnian Serb
forces. The rest fled to other parts of Bosnia or went into
exile abroad. The war transformed Banja Luka into a Bosnian Serb stronghold, with ethnic Muslims and Croats a distinct minority.
Now, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic says
anyone is welcome to live in Republika Srbska, whose
territory covers roughly half of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But
many Muslims and Croats are suspicious of Plavsic's change of heart. They say it may be a ploy to gain Western
support, as Plavsic steps up her power struggle with her
predecessor Radovan Karadzic, who has been charged with war
crimes but remains free.
Critics of Plavsic say all the mosques in Banja Luka
have been blown up, torn down, and erased from official
records -- including the city's historic 400-year-old mosque
that was once featured prominently on postcards of Banja Luka.
Hamizalia Kapetanovic, a Muslim community leader, says,
"We've been asking for two years to be able to put fences
around our religious sites, we've been asking for protection
of our cemetery, and they pretend not to hear us."
There may be another reason that the Bosnian Serb government
is inviting Muslims back. Banja Luka's economy, now in a
shambles, was fueled in large part by Muslim-run businesses
and services before the war -- from bakeries to shops that repair automobiles or TVs.
Some Serbs seeking a return to Banja Luka's former prosperity
say, as one man told CNN, that ethnic cleansing was a "stupid" campaign, one that ended up harming everyone.
A few of the Muslims who have returned to Banja Luka say they
are cautiously optimistic. Bakir Skorub, a mechanic, says he
made his peace with the Serbs, repaired their military
vehicles when they asked him to, and gets along with the
city's rulers. "A lot of people are coming back," he says,
"and I think a lot more will."
For her part, Duda Dervisic -- determined to stay in Banja
Luka come what may -- says, "We all want to live together
like before. Serb, Croat, Muslim -- it doesn't matter. The
important thing is to be a good person."
CNN's Richard Blystone contributed to this report.