Berserkistan Navigator Death Threats to Media
Supporting Rajko Kasagic

By Kurt Schork

Prime Minister Rajko Kasagic BANJA LUKA, Bosnia, May 17 (Reuters) — Independent Bosnian Serb media have come under intense pressure, including death threats, for supporting moderate prime minister Rajko Kasagic in his leadership battle with hardline president Radovan Karadzic, NATO sources said on Friday. "We are encouraging independents and moderates but we don't want anyone to get hurt," said a NATO officer in Banja Luka who asked not to be identified.

"At least one (media proprietor) supporting Kasagic has received anonymous death threats by phone and stepped back a bit in his support for Kasagic as a result. We considered placing an APC (armoured personnel carrier outside his establishment. "We finally settled on sending occasional patrols by instead. The thinking was if we are too visible in our presence it might make it seem he was our man rather than independent. It is a thin line we are walking."

The editor of Banja Luka's Nezavisne novine (independent newspaper) stopped international mediator Carl Bildt, a Kasagic ally, on the streets on Thursday and said he was rushing to print an extra edition of the paper on the leadership battle. "We will be printing Kasagic's statement from this morning if they will let us," he said, referring to possible interference from authorities under Karadzic's control.

Karadzic is unpopular in Banja Luka but still commands the state media and three police units and affiliated paramilitary in the area which, opposition leaders fear, could wreak havoc. The lengthy Kasagic statement described Karadzic as an "illegal president" because he had never been elected by the people but merely appointed by the Bosnian Serb assembly.

Karadzic dismissed Kasagic as prime minister on Wednesday after the men tangled over the Serb republic's responsibility under the Dayton peace agreement, which ended Bosnia's 43-month war late last year, and over relations with the outside world. Kasagic vows to remain in office at least until the assembly names his successor and he is scrambling to gather enough votes to stave off Karadzic's assault.

Karadzic, an indicted war criminal, is an unrepentant separatist and foe of Dayton, which calls for a unified, multi-ethnic Bosnia and for him to step down from office. Kasagic, with considerable prompting and support from the international community, has emerged as a leading proponent of the Dayton accord and of eventual ethnic reintegration.

He argues the Serbs must abandon Karadzic's isolationist policies if they are to earn the benefits of peace, including their share of billions of dollars in reconstruction aid While independent media in the west around Banja Luka, have been covering Kasagic sympathetically, state controlled media have either ignored or pillaried the prime minister.

Karadzic-controlled radio and television in the Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, stronghold of the hardliners, hammered Kasagic all day as a stooge of the west and an egoist determined to substitute his ideas for the wisdom of the party. Pale radio and television on Thursday also blistered Karl Bildt, the international high representative to Bosnia.

Bildt had been providing Kasagic with a free tutorial on how to combat Karadzic and build Banja Luka, the second largest city in Bosnia, into a counterweight to the village of Pale. Bosnian Serb media in Pale were referring to Bildt as a viceroy on Thursday and reported that hardliners in the government were threatening to cease relations with him. "Since I've already ceased relations with them, that threat poses no problem," Bildt told Reuterss in Banja Luka.

The Kasagic-Karadzic contest could come to a head early next week when the Bosnian Serb assembly is expected to be called into session, either in Pale or Banja Luka. Whatever the outcome, observers say the showdown points to the need to strengthen and expand the independent media across Bosnia in anticipation of fall elections.

"It is not clear whether Kasagic or Karadzic will win out in this event, but the issue is more about policy than personalities anyway. To get a fair discussion you need an open, independent media," said an official in the Bildt camp.

Additional resources
Berserkistan, May 16 · Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Rajko Kasagic Rejects His Dismissal
Berserkistan, May 15 · Radovan Karadzic Dismisses Prime Minister Kasagic
Berserkistan, May 10 · Bildt Wins Commitment from Moderate Serbs in Banja Luka

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