Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bosnia Weighs US Aid against Loyalty to Iran

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bosnia Weighs US Aid against Loyalty to Iran

Article excerpt

DESPITE mounting pressure from the United States and other Western powers, Bosnia has not complied with demands to rid its territory of Islamic fighters from Iran and other Muslim countries.

Failure to comply, Western officials say, has placed the Muslim-led government in violation of the Dayton peace accord and is jeopardizing Bosnia's future relations with the West.

The continuing presence of Iran - one of Bosnia's few allies during nearly four years of war - galls US officials, who made elimination of Iran's military role a precondition for a $400 million US-led effort to equip and train the Bosnian Army.

American pressure has been specifically directed at a secretive security outfit called the Bosnian Agency for Investigation and Documentation (BAID) that emerged in mid-January and is believed to be linked to the Islamic fighters. At a summit in Rome three weeks ago, American diplomats demanded that the agency be shut down. Bosnia has yet to comply.

"If they don't clean this up, it's going to be extremely difficult to move forward," says a senior Western official. "We've heard about a lot of good will from the Bosnians, but as long as the BAID is in place ... you can't say there is any change."

Bosnia faces a tough choice. It can align with the West, which would bring massive aid for reconstruction, weapons, and training, and a place in Europe. Or it can remain firmly tied to Iran, and risk losing Western support.

Top Bosnian officials say that fears of Iran's influence in Bosnia are overblown and that the decision to side with the West is easy. But intelligence sources, diplomats, and NATO peacekeeping officers confirm that 150 to 200 foreign "freedom fighters" remain in Bosnia, though all such fighters were required by the Dayton accord to have left Bosnia by Jan. 19. They are reportedly working from five to seven camps in secret locations across central Bosnia.

Senior Bosnian officials say, however, that below the surface they are making changes.

Ejup Ganic, Bosnia's acting president, doesn't see a crisis. "We know what the West wants from us," he says in an interview. "Even if those {training camps} exist, let's finish with them.... If we have it, we will remove it."

The agency is believed to operate largely beyond government control, under former Interior Minister Bakir Alispahic. "Those who made mistakes will be removed," acting President Ganic says. "Our internal bookkeeping must be put in the right order."

The link between the camps, BAID, and Iran's clandestine role was made when NATO-led peacekeeping troops swooped in on what they called a "terrorist cell" at a remote ski chalet at Fojnica in central Bosnia on Feb. 15.

Three Iranians were arrested, and NATO soldiers found bomb-making gear, specialized weapons, models for attacks on UN premises, and booby-trapped toys. A portrait of Iran's late spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stood on a desk.

Several Bosnians working for the Ministry of Interior were also arrested. …

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