Security tight as Bosnians go to Belgrade
BELGRADE, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Lingering hostility from the ethnic war between Serbs and Muslims in the early 1990s is expected to take a back seat when Serbia and Montenegro tackle Bosnia on Wednesday with a World Cup berth at stake.
Strong security measures are in place and both sides are going out of their way to play down the political aspects of their match in the Serbian capital, their second encounter after a 0-0 draw in Sarajevo a year ago.
'We hope that the pitch will be the only focus of attention as both have sides have invested huge efforts to make sure that this event is remembered only for the football,' said Serbia and Montenegro football association spokesman Aleksandar Boskovic.
'We have taken adequate measures to separate the two sets of fans, we have coordinated our activities with police and we expect these efforts to result in an incident-free event.'
Bosnian soccer federation chief Munib Usanovic said he hoped demons of the past would be laid to rest at Marakana stadium.
'We are playing with Serbia and Montenegro, not against them,' he told reporters, recalling 'fond memories' of the old days of Yugoslavia.
Bosnia was a Yugoslav republic until it declared independence in 1991 and war erupted in 1992. Over 200,000 people died in 43 months of fighting between Serbs, Muslims and Croats in Bosnia and hundreds of thousands became refugees.
The West brought peace to Bosnia but created a fragile, hybrid state made up of a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat federation, which are frequently at odds.
'This match is like no other because a vast majority of the fans coming from Bosnia (the Serbs) will cheer against their own country. It's a unique situation,' Usanovic said.
Some 1,500 Bosnian Serbs are expected to support Serbia on Wednesday while 700 away fans are coming to root for Bosnia.
Serbia lead Group Seven with 19 points and will qualify directly for Germany 2006 if they win. If the game is a draw, Spain (17 points) will have to score a hatful of goals in a win against bottom side San Marino to qualify ahead of Serbia.
Bosnia are three points adrift of Serbia and Montenegro and could qualify or reach the playoffs with a victory.
'This is a high risk match, like every international match,' a police source told Reuters. 'We are undertaking the same measures as for any high risk match... we had the same security during the Spain-Serbia/Montenegro match.'
He said there would be about 1,000 police and gendarmes in regular uniform or in riot gear. The stadium can hold 55,000.
'All objects that could physically hurt someone are banned, pyrotechnics, any kind of weapon, knives, objects that could be thrown on the pitch...Alcohol is forbidden and also people under the influence of alcohol will not be allowed.'
Fans would also be screened for any insignia or banners that could provoke racial or ethnic hatred.
Soccer federation general secretary Zoran Damjanovic said the federation had a list of the names of Bosnian fans coming.
'From the moment they enter (Serbia) until they leave they will be under the surveillance of Serbian police.. They will enter the eastern stand under police escort. They will be the last to leave the stadium,' he said.
Ljubisa Sekulic, head of security in the soccer federation, said cameras had been set up all around the stadium to monitor the crowd and there would be rigorous checks at the gates.
When Bosnia and Serbia battled to a 0-0 draw in Sarajevo last October, police outnumbered the several hundred away fans in the first competitive match between the two sides.
Bosnian FA spokeswoman Slavica Pecikoza told Reuters she expected a trouble-free match.
'We don't expect anything bad to happen because there is no political angle to this match. There was a lot more tension hyped by the media before the first meeting,' she said.
Hamstring injuries have ruled out Serbia's influential midfielder Dejan Stankovic and left back Ivica Dragutinovic, while Bosnia will miss Mirsad Beslija and Muhamed Konjic.