Associated Press

October 27, 1997

Explosion Shatters Serb Church

BRCKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) -- A pre-dawn explosion Monday shattered a Serb Orthodox Church under construction in the disputed northern Bosnian town of Brcko. The inscription ``Hezbollah'' was found on the church wall.

There were no injuries in the explosion at the Church of Holy Sunday, the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA reported.

Cathy Ladun, an international police spokeswoman, said one corner of the church was damaged; U.N. spokesman Liam McDowall called the damage ``slight.''

Razvigor Bazala, a spokesman for the Brcko office of the top international mediator, told The Associated Press that international police found the word ``Hezbollah'' spray-painted on an inside wall. Hezbollah is the name of an Iran-backed guerrilla organization operating in the Middle East.

Muslim militants were known to have fought on the Bosnian government's side during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, but there has never been any evidence of a formal link to Hezbollah.

SRNA called the attack the work of ``a terrorist organization,'' and Serb city authorities held an urgent session of the Brcko town council.

Controversy has surrounded the building of the Serb Orthodox church from the start of its construction in March in the village of Meraje, which Serbs have renamed Pete Kozarske Brigade, just outside Brcko.

Muslims objected to it, and the U.S. administrator of Brcko had requested construction stop.

Before the war, the area had been predominantly Muslim, and Bosnian refugees were to return to their pre-war homes under the provisions of the Dayton peace agreement.

Brcko is crucial to Serbs, Croats and Muslims because of its strategic location close to Croatia and its position on a narrow stretch of territory linking Serb-held lands in Bosnia's east and west. The Serbs now control Brcko, under international supervision, but its future will be decided by international arbitration.