From ........ Associated Press

December 14, 1996

By PAUL GEITNER ....... AP Writer

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- She's safe in her sister's dining room, wrapped in two sweaters, a flannel robe and a blanket. But Sadeta Repac trembles as she recalls how three men burst into her apartment three weeks ago and threw her out.

"They grabbed me around the chest and dragged me out the door," the 65-year-old Muslim woman says. Three men in uniform, with Croatian checkerboard arm patches -- the symbol of the Bosnian Croat militia.

A widow who can barely walk because of a spinal injury, Mrs. Repac was thrown into a car and dumped at night near the former front line that divides the mostly Croat western half of Mostar from the mostly Muslim east.

There she stood, balanced on two wooden canes, until a motorist took her to her sister's place on the Muslim side.

Such evictions occur almost daily in west Mostar, where $3,000 or so paid to the right people can get a home for a Croat family that belonged to a Muslim an hour earlier.

Although Muslims and Croats are nominally partners in their half of Bosnia, tension persists -- they fought for a year in central and southern Bosnia before teaming up at Washington's urging in 1994 against the Bosnian Serbs.

As in the fighting against the Serbs, tens of thousands of people were evicted from their homes.

Even after the signing of the Dayton peace accord a year ago, all sides continued "ethnic cleansing": Muslims ousted from Banja Luka and numerous villages in Serb-held territory; Serbs from Sarajevo suburbs that became part of the Muslim-Croat federation, and Croats from Bugojno in central Bosnia, also part of the federation.

In Croat-held west Mostar, more than 70 such cases have been reported to U.N. police this year. The pace has picked up dramatically recently for unknown reasons, leaving the estimated 3,000 Muslims still in west Mostar increasingly fearful.

"The rumor on the street is that (west) Mostar will be clear of Muslims by Christmas," said the chief of investigations for the U.N. police in Mostar, Donald Kilpatrick.

U.N. police and other international agencies blame the area's organized crime groups, perhaps working with Bosnian Croat soldiers, and say west Mostar's police and political leaders have proved unwilling or unable to stop them.

"People are obviously making money, but the primary motive is to get rid of the Muslims," said Kilpatrick, a 31-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Mostar, 80 miles southwest of Sarajevo, had about 120,000 people before the war -- 35 percent Muslim, 34 percent Croat, the rest Serbs and others.

Most of the destruction during the war fell on the outgunned Muslim side, where Ottoman-era stone buildings lie in ruins and reconstruction has only just begun. In the western half, life appears normal. Christmas lights hang from the trees and utility poles, and vendors sell trees and greeting cards.

Some Muslim women venture west to shop, but not "Muslim men of military service age," who fear arrest, said Frank Sarver, a retired police lieutenant from Beverly Hills, Calif., who is the U.N. police commander in Mostar.

Mostar elected a joint city council this summer, but for most of the estimated 80,000 residents here now, it remains a divided city, with separate police, separate currencies, even different license plates.

Much of west Mostar's wealth comes from war profiteers, criminals who forged close ties with the police and local leaders during the war.

"Mostar is not the only city in Europe with crime," said Sir Martin Garrod, the European Union special envoy who administers Mostar. But "the criminal elements here have got enormous power."

Kilpatrick described the west Mostar police chief, Marko Radic, as "a thug if there ever was one." Radic declined to be interviewed. U.N. police began special patrols Friday from 4 p.m. to midnight to try to react to expelling cases before the gangs can change the locks and install the new tenants -- often a matter of an hour or two.

"We've got to try to circumvent it right at the beginning," Sarver said, by calling in the local police and browbeating them into "following their own laws." Otherwise, he said, it becomes practically impossible to get rid of the new family, usually Croats who say they too were expelled from somewhere and insist they had no idea anything illegal was going on.

Such a family is now in Mrs. Repac's old apartment, where she lived for 20 years. U.N. police have told her they would stay in touch, but she's not holding out much hope. "I want to go back," she said, "but only when all people are able to go back, because I'm afraid to be there alone."