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"Bosnia's leaky customs system is to be overhauled to catch hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid excise taxes, a top diplomat has said," BBC reports in a story posted at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2753371.stm " 'Bosnia loses a staggering 1.4 billion marks ($770 million) a year to custom and tax fraud precisely because the divisions in the current system make it a playground for criminals,' Mr Ashdown told reporters."
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Seven years after the end of the war in Bosnia, more than 16,000 Bosnians are still classified as missing, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The ICRC's "Working Group on Persons Unaccounted For" met for the first time since 1999 last week to discuss progress exhuming and identifying victims' remains as well as how work will go forward. The Red Cross statement on the meeting is online at http://www.icrc.org/Web/eng/siteeng0.nsf/html/5JPD33?OpenDocument&style=custo_final
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The seized documents are a ?treasure trove? and among other things indicate al-Qaida military leaders were at times paid salaries from Muslim charity proceeds and purchased weapons with money from charity leaders, prosecutors said in the once-secret court filing. Other evidence seized in March 2002 from the Bosnian offices of the Benevolence International Foundation, an Illinois-based Muslim charity, includes handwritten correspondence to and from bin Laden and documents detailing the origins, growth and expansion of his al-Qaida network in the 1980s and 1990s, the filing said. Though the original documents remain secret, the prosecutor described their contents and English translations for the first time in the filing unsealed this month in the case of the head of the Muslim foundation who reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Chicago. Enaam Arnaout pleaded guilty last week to illegally buying boots and uniforms for fighting forces in Bosnia and Chechnya under a deal in which prosecutors, in exchange for his cooperation, dropped charges that he aided bin Laden. In a pretrial document known as a ?proffer,? prosecutors said handwritten documents scanned into computer formats in the Bosnia office included a file titled ?Osama?s history? that contained ?a handwritten draft list of people referred to within al-Qaida as the ?Golden Chain,? wealthy donors to mujahedeen efforts.? ?The list contained 20 names, and after each name a parenthetical indicating the person who received the money from the specified donor,? the proffer said. MILLIONS SEIZED The list suggested at least seven of the donors gave directly to bin Laden, and six of the others were listed as giving to the founder of a Muslim charity, the court document said. U.S. officials declined to identify any of the 20 donors, but said the list is one of several pieces of evidence the government has obtained since the war on terror began after Sept. 11 that identifies spigots of money that have financed bin Laden and Middle Eastern and Asian terrorists over the past two decades. U.S. officials estimate they have frozen roughly $124.5 million in financial assets belonging to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, since the Sept. 11 attacks. One letter found in the files instructed a charity leader to pay a monthly salary of 4,500 Saudi riyals each ? about $1,200 ? to two of al-Qaida?s top military leaders. The letter establishes ?that military commanders were salaried by the support organizations,? the prosecutors said in the proffer. Other documents discuss the purchases of weapons such as missiles, dynamite, fuses, rocket-propelled grenades and bayonets, the proffer stated. The documents found in the charity?s Bosnian office also chronicle the evolution of bin Laden?s movement from support of the once U.S.-based muhajedeen warriors fighting Soviet occupation of Afghanistan to a global terror network that posed threats to the United States and rest of the Western world. In one letter, an unidentified author writes to bin Laden asking for help for followers in the African country of Eritrea. The letter identifies as its top goal ?facilitating the travel of the youth to the field of Jihad so they can benefit from the training possibilities, by providing them with tickets and entry visas,? according to the government translation. Another letter from bin Laden ?explains the time has come for an attack on the Russians,? the court documents said. AL-QAIDA?S HISTORY Other correspondence describe money transfers and weapons purchases showing that al-Qaida often facilitates such transactions with a simple letter from bin Laden or a top lieutenant asking the recipient to provide money to the bearer of the letter. For instance, one letter instructed the recipient to send 400,000 rupees of Pakistani money ? about $7,200 ? ?to the owner of the weapon for delivery in Parachinar ... for security reasons,? the proffer said. Another used an alias to refer to bin Laden and his request that a charity leader ?give 500,000 rupees to the man bearing the letter,? the proffer said. That?s about $9,000. While most of the documents were a decade or more old, they provided U.S. authorities with significant insight into al-Qaida and helped confirm many suspicions about its finances, structure and evolution, U.S. officials said. Some details in the documents ?were not known to the public,? the proffer said. Handwritten notes detail the original formation of al-Qaida, including minutes of an Aug. 11, 1988, meeting bin Laden held to discuss ?the establishment of a new military group.? Those notes record bin Laden?s own statements on the efforts to recruit members from Saudi Arabia for his network and to raise money. The notes quote bin Laden as saying ?we took very huge gains from the country?s people in Saudi. We were able to give political power to the mujahedeen, gathering donations in very large amounts, restoring power,? the court document states.
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More than a hundred thousand Bosnians returned to their pre-war homes last year -- most to areas where their own ethnic group is not a majority, UN officials report. In fact, last year was a record year for so-called "minority returns," with 102,000 out of a total of 110,000 returnees in 2002 heading back to regions where another ethnic group dominates. "We have come a really long way since the end of the war," Udo Janz, head of the UNHCR's Bosnia operations, told a news conference, Reuters reports, in a story posted at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L05111081 The UN's refugee agency estimates that about half of those who fled or were evicted from their homes have returned. And, many who have not returned have established new lives abroad and have chosen not to go back, Janz said. By the end of last year, 170,000 homes had been reclaimed by their owners - 70% of all possible under new property laws, according to the UNHCR Web site. ...BUT ECONOMIC PROBLEMS CONTINUE. "Strikes and street protests are spreading across Bosnia fueled by discontent over plunging living standards," the Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) said in a report last month. "Bosnian workers blame much of their worsening plight on the country's clumsy privatisation process, which has led to heavy job losses, and has been accompanied by huge wage backlogs and a mountain of company debt." The article is online at http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/bcr3/bcr3_200301_397_3_eng.txt
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Following the great success of the first and the second Sarajevo Fashion Week B&H, organized in April 2001/2002, we are in the process of organizing the third consecutive Sarajevo Fashion Week which is to take place the first week of April 2003 in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina). Each year immense media and public interest followed our fashion shows. After the war, events, such as this one, have become of extreme importance to our city as they, in great part, contribute to reintegration of our city and society. Sarajevo Fashion Week symbolizes the need to contribute to further development of this city. This manifestation stands for the strength, beauty, and youth, all that enriches our life. This project received overall support from the Cantonal Ministry of Culture, Chamber of Commerce of the Federation of B&H, Chamber of Commerce of B&H, international institutions, embassies, and renowned world companies. The fashion week is one of the most prestigious events held within the last few years. At this occasion, which is certainly one of the most important ones in Bosnia and Herzegovina, various designs, from our national and the eminent international creators, will be presented. Numerous journalists, professionals from the fashion world, as well as many prestigious companies will take part in this event. It is with great honor that we invite you to participate in the Sarajevo Fashion Week the first week of April 2003. Many local and international journalists will cover this event, as well as numerous VIP guests from the international diplomatic community and prominent international organizations and companies. We invite you to visit our web site at www.fashionweek.ba for further reference, as we are certain you will notice that this is extremely significant event organized in the utmost professional manner. We are confident that we can provide for an exceptional presentation of your work at our fashion show. Looking forward to welcoming you at this great event and in our city stressing that your support of our project will be greatly valued and appreciated. Respectfully yours, Rusmir Arnautovic
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