AIM: start



THU, 08 NOV 2001 21:49:37 GMT

Police Minister's Resignation Angered the Americans

Depolitisation of Police - An Empty Phrase

Muhamed Besic, Minister of Police, whom the American see as the leader of anti-terrorist fight in B&H, was forced to resign because it seemed that he was listening to the IPTF more than to his political chiefs from the Party for B&H.

AIM Sarajevo, October 16, 2001

On Thursday, October 12, Federal Police Minister Muhamed Besic submitted his resignation that Karlo Filipovic, the Federation President, readily accepted. This did not disturb Prime Minister Alija Behmen in the least, while representatives of the Party for B&H in the authorities were even glad. On the same day Besic handed in his resignation the weekly "Free Bosnia" (Slobodna Bosnia) published an interview of the Bosniac member of the state Presidency Beriz Belkic, in which he announced that Presidency of the Party for B&H would be reviewing the work of the Police Minister. He did not give very favourable (he is considered a moderate politician) opinion of the Police Minister in that interview. He said that "the MUP is incapable of fulfilling its role and takes too long to react", so that on several occasions both the MUP and Minister Besic "made rash and wrong decisions". The fact that Belkic is a high-ranking official of the Party for B&H and that this party had nominated Besic as its candidate for this function gives additional weight to this opinion. It was clear that Besic's days were numbered because he had no one to speak for him as a non-party politician.

After terrorist attacks in America of September 11, the police, and especially its Minister came under great political, diplomatic and media pressures. When the anti-terrorist campaign started, the Federal Police with Besic at its helm, did not hesitate in joining it. Quite the opposite, it could be even said that it was over-zealous and thus earned the dislike of the general public.

The federal police top ranks were also criticised because they allowed SFOR's autonomous actions in Bihac, Sarajevo and Visoko in which foreign and B&H nationals had been arrested and held in detention without any possibility of contacting their attorneys, although they had no connection with terrorism. However, the real subject of this criticism was not the police but rather the Government, because the politicians stood aside while American soldiers carried out police actions all round B&H.

After the arrest of two young men for putting up posters around Sarajevo ("Do Muslims have a right to a minute of silence") and a press conference at which Besic announced the arrival of 70 Talibans from Afghanistan to Bosnia, the Minister came under heavy criticism. This piece of information soon became front-page news of all world news agencies, which turned out to be just a propaganda fraud. Beriz Belkic, member of the B&H Presidency, said that this "caused great harm to B&H", not failing to scold the Minister "who should know what he is talking about when speaking in public and substantiate his claims with arguments". Besic himself was not very convinced in the truthfulness of what he had said - according to his own words, his intention was to send a message to unwanted guests and prevent the attempt of suspicious types to come to B&H because of its porous borders (the state border police doesn't cover more than one fourth of BH borders). The media, especially, "Free Bosnia" exposed the Minister to ridicule for inventing enemies while "lying on his stomach" and demanded his resignation. Even before that Besic had been accused of being the long arm of Izetbegovic's SDA party, without any convincing proof to that effect.

The criticism culminated after the arrest of Edin Avdic, a journalist of "Free Bosnia", who on his return from Pakistan wherefrom he had been reporting on the start of American intervention - was arrested at Istanbul Airport, on which the AIM reported (see the text "The Spectre of Suspicion Looming Over Bosnia"). This weekly rushed to accuse the Minister of taking revenge on the press by staging incidents. The public was informed how, apart from the same name and surname, a man from a wanted circular and the unfortunate journalists had the same photographs, passports numbers and fingerprints. Minister Besic refuted these charges as manipulation and "very dangerous designs". In an interview the Minister explained how he had asked his Turkish colleagues for a formal report and received a reply that they had no fingerprints, photos nor any biography in connection with the demand of the Austrian police to Interpol.

This story that alarmed the BH public and at first provoked a justified fear of common people, has not been fully unravelled yet, but could most probably be reconstructed as follows: at the Istanbul passport control the journalist aroused suspicion because he was returning from Pakistan. Additional control showed that there was an Interpol APB issued in Austria after a person of the same name and surname. Avdic was arrested and additional checks followed. On account of this case, the weekly "Days" (Dani) called on the Minister to resign.

This is the part of story on media pressure. They only created an atmosphere suitable for the sacrifice of the Police Minister, while real reasons were much deeper and of political nature. This is how Besic explained the background of his resignation: "The Federal MUP is on the track of organised crime and is preparing actions. It is also on track of corruption and preparing specific operations in that respect. FMUP is committed to the fight against terrorism and has already carried out a number of actions. Perhaps someone wanted to stop all that", warned Besic in his interview for the "Gazette" (Avaz).

However, the true reasons were smouldering misunderstandings between Besic and Haris Silajdzic. As Besic disclosed, former leader of the Party for B&H had demanded his resignation already this summer while both were still on vacation. The reason was Silajdzic's dissatisfaction with Dragan Lukac's appointment as head of the Police Department. But, Besic did not tell the whole story either. Once, in an informal conversation he admitted that he was torn apart between the international police forces (IPTF) and the Party for B&H. It was public knowledge that Dragan Lukac was the choice of IPTF and other international offices in Sarajevo. In this conflict of interests Besic chose the stronger side, i.e. the international community. And his controversial statement about the arrival of 70 Talibans was also obviously planted by the Americans. Indirectly, Besic admitted that this statement had been suggested to him by "diplomatic-intelligence sources of a friendly country". It is estimated in Sarajevo that this statement was aimed at creating an atmosphere in which the Americans could carry out a series of military-police operations and arrest suspect foreigners of Arabian origin without any interference and unnecessary questions being raised regarding human rights and respect of criminal-procedural regulations on the rights of arrested persons.

This conclusion seems even more logical after the letter of the American Embassy in Sarajevo expressing the dissatisfaction over Besic's resignation, whom they see as the "key person in the Bosnian fight against terrorism and fulfilment of obligations the Alliance has assumed". The letter also said that "this calls into question the seriousness of the B&H Government in connection with this essential issue, as well as the ability of the Party for B&H to participate in this country's state affairs". The protest of the American Embassy also contained a harsh note of warning. After the phrase on the right of the B&H people to choose which party they want in Government, it warned that it was the right of "the US to decide who will be its partners". This serious warning was primarily addressed to Zlatko Lagumdzija, as leader of the Alliance's ruling block. The American anger should be taken seriously for many reasons. The basic one is that the Alliance has come to power in B&H primarily as an American project and with the support of the influential countries of the West.

However, the internal problem is much larger. It turned out that the depolitisation of police is nothing but an empty phrase and that every Minister crucially depends on the love of his parent party. The other problem is that the Party for B&H doesn't have an adequate replacement for the Minister. The third is that the new chief of police would have to be approved by the IPTF, which might complicate things.

Emir HABUL

(AIM Sarajevo)