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Murder of Catholic Nun Raises Political Tensions

October 2, 1996

KAKANJ, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ A Croat man with a history of mental problems has been arrested for the murder of a Roman Catholic nun that hard-line politicians have used to stir up ethnic tensions.

The motive behind the stabbing death of Danka Jurcevic, also a Croat, remained unclear Wednesday. But that didn’t stop many from speculating that much more was behind the murder two days earlier in this central Bosnian town _ including lingering animosity between Muslims and Croats in the region.

The two communities fought over territories in 1993-94, but are now partners in a shaky federation meant to counterbalance Bosnia’s Serbs. Still, hard-liners on both sides continue to put their nationalist interests above efforts to solidify the federation _ and put an ethnic spin on any tension that arises.

On Tuesday, Srecko Vucina, a general secretary of the ruling Bosnian Croat party, insinuated that the murder was part of an effort to push the remaining Croats from Muslim-dominated Kakanj.

Yet police say the detainee, Josip Cokar, is a Croat. He was arrested Tuesday about 12 miles west of here, apparently while trying to flee, police said. Locals say he is emotionally disturbed and has alcohol and drug problems.

Police apparently had yet to charge Cokar with anything.

``It could have been anybody, with whatever motive. We still don’t know,″ said Adil Smailagic, who is in charge of the investigation. ``With the current turmoil, I am not surprised that this murder has already entered political waters.″

Kakanj, a coal-mining town about 35 miles northwest of Sarajevo, was united in grief Wednesday, as hundreds of mourners packed the town’s modern church. Sister Danka’s body, dressed in white, was laid in a simple coffin surrounded with pots of fresh flowers, bouquets and candles.

Dozens of Catholic and Franciscan priests and nuns from across Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia came to pay their last respects.

``I don’t know who stands behind this,″ said Fra Petar Andjelovic, head of the Franciscan community in central Bosnia. ``What I know is that we respect the dead and they should not be used in crazy political games.″

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