Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War Doesn't Stop Business of Bosnian Wheeler-Dealer

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

War Doesn't Stop Business of Bosnian Wheeler-Dealer

Article excerpt

The throb of engines pounds the air from the trucks lined outside the warehouse. Muslim drivers mill around in the diesel fumes, waiting for the order to get in and go.

"This is great," said a mustachioed driver, cigarette hanging from his lower lip. "We're going to Zagreb just like we did under Tito."

The others all nod vigorously, beaming a happy, well-fed look you don't often see in Bosnia.

"We don't have any hassles going through Serb territory," said the first driver's mate, leaning against the truck emblazoned with the legend "Agrokomerc." "We make $120 per month, and we get food. Babo's got it right."

Fikret Abdic - "Babo" to his drivers - is managing director of Agrokomerc, in the good old days the largest food production company in Yugoslavia. Despite the ethnic clashes in the region, Babo's company still is making deliveries - thanks to his ability to wheel and deal with friend and foe.

Imprisoned for fraud in 1987 and released as Yugoslavia collapsed, Babo is a sometime member of the Bosnian presidential council and the one-time lord of Bihac. He now rules from the feudal enclave Velika Kladusa.

In a country where starvation and shells are the order of the day, Abdic has traded his way through the civil war, using the United Nations to escort his food trucks, presiding in relative peace over his native Bihac pocket, a 300,000-strong Muslim bubble in western Bosnia, surrounded by Bosnian Serbs to the north and east and Krajina Serbs to the southwest. Neither bubble has burst.

A few weeks ago, just before the Bosnian parliament voted to reject the international peace plan, Babo announced that his Bihac pocket was now the autonomous Province of Western Bosnia within Bosnia.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic denounced Abdic as a traitor, expelled him from the presidential council and ordered the army in Bihac to fight for their legitimate government.

Now Babo is holed up in his stronghold of Velika Kladusa in the north of the enclave while Muslim faces Muslim across a diffident front line a few miles down the road from Bihac. …

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