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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mostar Moslems, Croats Still Uneasy Neighbors

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- They should have been mingling freely in the town they once shared. But on the day the barriers were to come down, Moslems and Croats were as firmly dug in as ever on opposite sides of the Neretva River.


Full freedom of movement, a key step toward pulling Mostar back together again after ruinous fighting, was to have been restored Thursday.


But instead, while natives hunkered down in the biggest blizzard in 15 years, the divide seemed as great as ever.


After Moslems and Croats failed to agree on municipal districts for the city, European Union administrator Hans Koschnick on Wednesday proposed a central, joint district in addition to three Moslem and three Croat areas.


Croats, who rejected the idea of a central district, revolted, converging on Koschnick's headquarters en masse, surrounding his car and blocking his passage before NATO troops arrived to protect the building. At least 10 bullets were fired into his armored car.


Later in the day, the mayor of the Croat side, Mijo Brajkovic called Koschnick's proposal a "scam'' and announced on the radio that all ties with the EU mission, which administers peace in Mostar, had ended.


At stake now seems to be even the fragile equilibrium that the sides have achieved since they stopped fighting two years ago under a U.S. plan to form a Moslem-Croat federation.


If Croats and Moslems cannot work together in the 51 percent of Bosnia they will control, there is little chance that they will be able to cooperate effectively with the Serbs who hold the other 49 percent.


"Men of military age cannot get through,'' said Croat policeman Slavko Juric, manning a checkpoint. He knew that starting Thursday all restrictions on movement were to be lifted.


"But after yesterday's events ... things are a bit tense,'' he said. Eyeing an old man passing from the Moslem side, Juric nodded for him to continue.


Tarik Musulovic, 58, slowly trudged through the slush, casting a careful eye on the Croat. "I'll only be there briefly, to visit some relatives,'' he said.


The Moslem-Croat federation never took hold in Mostar. The Moslems favored a unified city. The Croats prefer to keep their links with Croatia proper, flaunting its flags, currency and symbols.


Even the usually optimistic Koschnick threatened to throw in the towel if he didn't get renewed backing from the EU, adding that all options, including the withdrawal of the mission, were possible.


Even if the EU mission continues, without active cooperation from the Croats, Mostar will remain a town divided.


"It is our town,'' said Dario, a Croat, referring to the Croat part of Mostar. "If they don't want to go on like this, we don't want to go on at all.''


But older people like Sadeta Temim, a 55-year-old lawyer on the Moslem side, remember and crave the good times of living together with Croats and Serbs. On Thursday she crossed over to the Croat side to visit friends.


"Of course I still have friends there,'' she said. "What do you think? We go a long way back, longer than these people,'' Temim said, referring to the ruling hardliners on the Croat side.