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Car bomb injures 50 in Mostar

September 19, 1997

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ A car bomb exploded near a police station in the Croat-controlled western half of bitterly divided Mostar, injuring 50 people, officials said today.

It was the worst explosion anywhere in Bosnia since the Dayton peace accords ended a 3 1/2-year civil war in 1995.

Explosives packed into a vehicle parked 130 yards from the police station and close to two large apartment buildings went off at 11:40 p.m. Thursday, said police and Kelly Moore, a U.N. police force spokeswoman.

Dr. Zoran Antunovic at the local hospital said the injured included a 1-month-old baby and three other children. Moore said 25 of the wounded were seriously hurt.

Croat officials said three security guards at the police station were hurt. It was not clear if any police officers were injured.

Soldiers with the NATO-led peace force helped evacuate the wounded and transported one seriously injured person to a hospital in Split, in neighboring Croatia.

Debris from buildings, parked cars and upturned earth was littered over an area of at least 200 square yards today.

A crater about a yard deep marked the blast site. A mushroom cloud of dust had settled on buildings and vehicles over a wide area.

``There hasn’t been a blast like this really since Dayton,″ said Liam McDowall, a U.N. spokesman in Sarajevo.

The blast destroyed 56 apartments and damaged another 120, said Valentin Coric, the Croats’ minister for internal affairs in the Mostar region.

Forty-four cars were destroyed and 75 were damaged, he said. The blast also wrecked nine businesses and damaged 22, he added.

The police station was operated by the joint Muslim-Croat police force established in July after months of arduous negotiation.

``I think that this was an attack against the joint police in Mostar,″ said Sefkija Dziho, the Muslims’ deputy minister for internal affairs in the region.

Moore, however, said that it was not clear whether the police station was the target.

``It’s too early to tell whether they were targeting the (apartment) buildings, somebody living there, or the police station, or just trying to make a statement,″ she said.

Dziho said joint police were enacting ``special security measures,″ but refused to give details.

Coric said several anonymous phone calls had been received since the blast, but also declined to give any details.

Mostar, 50 miles southwest of Sarajevo, is divided into the Croat-controlled west and Muslim-controlled east.

Hard-liners on both sides had opposed the joint police force, a sign of the desire of some to forget the divisions created by bitter Muslim-Croat fighting in 1993 and 1994.

Croat criminals and black marketeers, in particular, oppose reunification of Mostar and abolition of structures that earned them money and power during and after Bosnia’s war ended in 1995.

The explosion was the worst violent incident in Mostar since February, when Croat police opened fire on Muslim pilgrims in west Mostar, killing one and injuring 20.

The police station _ known locally as the ``stone building″ _ was a regional police headquarters before the war.

During the war, it was the Interior Ministry headquarters of the self-styled state established by Bosnian Croat hard-liners in this part of southwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Although the Muslim-Croat war officially ended in 1994 with the creation of a U.S.-brokered federation between the two groups, tensions have remained high in Mostar, one of Bosnia’s most war-damaged and contested cities.

Early this year, there was a fresh wave of expulsions of Muslim residents from the Croat half of town. An alleged Croat extremist was arrested earlier this week after beating two Croat and Muslim police officers on a joint patrol.

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