- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Terrorists linked to the al Qaeda network are operating in Bosnia, according to the Croatian member of the country's tripartite presidency.
"Al Qaeda cells are active in Bosnia," President Dragan Covic said in an interview with The Washington Times. "The Bush administration needs to deal aggressively with this problem. If nothing is done about this, Islamic extremist groups could in the future destabilize the entire region."
Radical Islamic groups in Bosnia are plotting terrorist attacks, said Mr. Covic, who was elected in October and shares power with representatives of the country's Serbian and Muslim populations.
"In Bosnia there are many 'humanitarian' agencies that are in reality fronts for terrorist groups from the Middle East," he said Friday, adding that the most prominent are those linked with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The radical Islamist cells are funded from countries all over the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Mr. Covic said.
"We believe that our security forces, along with U.S. intelligence personnel, have this information and are working to deal with the problem," he said.
Mr. Covic, 47, was in Washington for a two-day trip, in which he met with aids on Capitol Hill.
The proliferation of Islamic extremist groups threatens to undermine Bosnia's fragile peace, he said. He urged the Bush administration to take action to stem the tide of Islamic fundamentalism in the Balkans.
"These terrorist cells are very dangerous not only to peace and stability in the Balkans, but to European and American security interests," Mr. Covic said. "The failure by the United States during the 1990s to deal with the threat posed by the al Qaeda network based in a country as far away as Afghanistan resulted in the horrific consequences of September 11. Just imagine the devastation that can be unleashed from the growth of Islamic extremism in the heart of Europe."
The past several years have brought sporadic attacks by Muslim extremists on Catholic churches around Sarajevo. Three Croats a father and his two daughters were gunned down last Christmas Eve in their home by an Islamic militant near the town of Konjic. The reason: The family was celebrating Christmas.
Bosnia's constitutional system also needs to be reformed, said Mr. Covic, who is vice president of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a party that enjoys the strong support of ethnic Croats.
Now is the time to revise the 1995 agreement reached in Dayton, Ohio, which ended the war in Bosnia, Mr. Covic said. The Dayton accords divided the country into two entities, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian-Serb republic.
"Dayton was a major accomplishment because it established the peace in Bosnia. However, the internal structure of the state devised by the agreement was only a short-term solution," Mr. Covic said.
He said Croats are denied full political and cultural rights throughout Bosnia, especially in areas with Muslim or Serbian majorities. The smallest of Bosnia's three main ethnic groups, Croats constitute roughly 18 percent of the population. Muslims are the largest group, with 44 percent; Serbs make up 31 percent.
Because Muslims are in the majority in the Muslim-Croat entity, Mr. Covic said, Croats are denied positions in many government ministries.
"This amounts to discrimination against the Croats," he said, adding that their minority status means they cannot influence implementation of many laws.
"The Croats in Bosnia have not resolved the question of their national status within the country. They should be granted the full and equal rights that are applied to the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims," Mr. Covic said.
For Bosnia to achieve long-term political stability, he said, it must devolve power from the central government, allowing greater authority and freedom to the three ethnic groups at the local level.
"The model should be that of Switzerland or Belgium," Mr. Covic said.

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