Tensions in Mostar Test Alliance Muslims and Croats Have Reunited, but Continue to Fight over Historic Sites

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THE new Roman Catholic cathedral being built by Bosnian Croats in the city of Mostar is expected to be half the size of a football field, and it is deepening antagonism between former Croat and Muslim enemies.

There has been relative peace in this divided city for two years, and a Bosnia-wide Federation between Croats and Muslims that serves as the cornerstone to the Dayton peace agreement. But the alliance is fraying quickly, Western officials say, and is in danger of collapse.

Forging ahead with the symbolic and controversial "Resurrection of Christ" basilica, a European Union official says, is a "deliberate provocation" of the Muslims by the Croats, and one of many that demonstrates how little the two groups want to live with each other.

The pit for the foundation of the cathedral is being excavated at breakneck speed, and Croats say that the church will be completed by the year 2004.

Muslims say they don't mind that the Croats are building a new cathedral in Mostar, but they and EU officials are angry it is being built in a central zone - meant for both Croats and Muslims - currently under EU administration.

Staking their claim to one of the last open spaces in the center of the city, the Croats are also planning to build a Croatian national theater and - even though Croats initiated 10 months of brutal ethnic war in 1993 to "cleanse" the city of Muslims - erect a monument to Croat "heroes" and victims of the fighting.

The Dayton peace agreement was based on the assumption that the Muslim-Croat Federation - brokered by US diplomats in 1994 - would remain intact and serve as a counterbalance to the Serb ministate in Bosnia. But tensions remain high, despite the presence of 60,000 American-led peacekeeping troops. "It's a shotgun marriage, and they want to be at arm's length," says a NATO officer in Mostar. "Our assessment is that we are seeing the unraveling of the Federation by mutual consent."

EU officials have struggled to hammer out agreements for a joint police force in Mostar, as well as freedom of movement, and even a new Federation flag. But strong diplomatic pressure has been unable to overcome the animosity. "The fighting here was so close and intense that quite a lot of heart was taken out," says the officer. Freedom of movement has proven to be a "farce," and both sides seem intent on continuing with their wartime policies of obliterating all cultural traces of their former enemy.

Croat violence boiled over last month, when EU administrator Hans Koschnick of Germany laid down his plans for the reunification of the city. Mostar would be divided into six municipalities - three each for Muslims and Croats - and a mixed central zone would be created, where federation ministries and offices would be based. …

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