Serbia: Muslims demand more rights in south

Other News Materials 1 July 2009 12:19 (UTC +04:00)

Minority Muslims living in Serbia's southern Sandzak region have demanded more rights and a reorganisation of the region in the future decentralisation of power in the country, Italian  AKI news agency reported

The Bosniac National Council which represents Sandzak Muslims, adopted a declaration made public on Tuesday, protesting plans to split Sandzak into two administrative units.

It also demanded "greater national equality" and proportional representation of Bosniacs - or Bosnian Muslims - in all state institutions.

Observers said the declaration was likely to trigger bitter debate, especially a clause referring to Bosnia as the Bosniacs' home state.

The declaration called on Belgrade authorities to "fully and efficiently implement the constitution and legal and international obligations in the promotion of minority rights of Sandzak Bosniacs in Serbia".

It also demanded protection of the Bosniac heritage and the introduction of the Bosniac language as the official one in communities with a sizeable Muslim population.

These demands were "essential elements of the national identity of Sandzak Bosniacs", the declaration stated.

With the exception of Kosovars of Albanian descent, most Muslims in the former Yugoslavia are Slavs who converted to Islam during centuries of Ottoman occupation. They were granted nationality status as Muslims by the late communist leader General Tito in 1963.

But after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, most of them opted to call themselves Bosniacs, considering neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina their home country.

Sandzak Muslims recognise Bosnian Reiss-ul-Ulema Mustafa Ceric as their spiritual leader, while Muslims in other parts of Serbia elected their own leader with a seat in Belgrade.