Daily Telegraph, 29 December 1993
[Posted 9 June 2005]
[ www.tenc.net ]
Daily Telegraph, 29 December 1993
By Robert Fox in Fojnica (Bosnia)
“DOCUMENTS!” shouted a man in a beret with an insignia in green Arabic script outside the UN house in the Bosnian mountain town of Fojnica. He was hostile and demanded our presence at the police station.
Later the police chief apologised, but made clear that authority had passed to the men with the Koranic texts hanging from their fatigues.
Last summer Muslim and Croat leaders in Fojnica asked the WN to declare it a “zone of peace”. Since then war has ravaged the town, bringing murder, mayhem and exile to at least half its original population of 12,000. Different, and alien, forces are now in charge — some of the toughest in the Bosnian Muslim army.
These are the men of the Handzar division. “We do everything with the knife, and we always fight on the frontline,” a Handzar told one UN officer.
Up to 6000-strong, the Handzar division glories in a fascist culture. They see themselves as the heirs of the SS Handzar division, formed by Bosnian Muslims in 1943 to fight for the Nazis. Their spiritual model was Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who sided with Hitler.
According to UN officers, surprisingly few of those in charge of the Handzars in Fojnica seem to speak good Serbo-Croatian. “Many of them are [Muslim] Albanian, whether from Kosovo (the Serb province where Albanians are the majority) or from Albania itself.”
They are trained and led by veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, say UN sources. The strong presence of native Albanians is an ominous sign. It could mean the seeds of war are spreading south via Kosovo and into Albania, thence to the Albanians of Macedonia.
Pakistani fundamentalists are known to have had a strong hand in providing arms and a small weapons industry for the Bosnian Muslims.
Hardline elements of the Bosnian army, like the Handzar, appear to have the backing of an increasingly extreme leadership in Sarajevo, represented by Mr Ejup Ganic, Foreign Minister, Mr Haris Silajdzic, Prime Minister, and Mr Enver Hadjihasanovic, the new army chief.
The Handzars are working closely with other units around Fojnica, preparing for the long assault on Kiseljak to the east and Prozor to the west, a campaign likely to last years.
The first political act in this new operation appears to have been the murder of the two monks in the monastery. Last month Brother Nikola Milicevic, 39, and Brother Mato Migic, 56, were surprised by a four-man squad.
After an argument, Brother Nikola was shot dead on the spot. His colleague was only wounded, but finished off by a shot in the neck.
Mysteriously, the police guard disappeared a few minutes before. The murder squad withdrew after the killings.
The Provincial for the Franciscans of Bosnia, Petar Andjelovic, demanded an explanation. He received condolences from President Alija Izetbegovic and a note from the police in Sarajevo that the matter was under investigation.
The Provincial is convinced this was a political murder to deepen the division between Croats and Muslims. He also believes it was sanctioned by Sarajevo.
“I can say that for the moment all responsibility for this killing falls at the door of the Bosnian army,” he told an Italian Catholic magazine last week. “Somebody very powerful must have organised this.”
The way the Handzars have settled in Fojnica suggests they are playing for a long war. The town is self-sufficient in meat, vegetables and cereals. The terrain is ideal for guerrilla operations.
More significant is the nature of the Handzars, and the influences of the Albanians in their command, and the support from Pakistan. These suggest, politically and militarily, the war in Bosnia has spread – under the dozing eyes of the West.
(c) 1993 Toronto Star, reprinted for Fair Use and educational purposes only