An international official has praised religious leaders for building closer ties in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and insisted, despite claims to the contrary, that extremism is on the wane.

"Extremist voices" among both Christians and Muslims were receding, said the official, who vigorously rejected claims, including some from a church agency, that the country faced "Islamization."

The Roman Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, claimed in a press release on March 29 that Bosnia-Herzegovina was "developing into an Islamic state," with Muslim teachings "increasingly dominating all spheres of life."

Chris Bird, spokesman for the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the international administration overseeing the region, whose headquarters are in Sarajevo, said he believed such allegations were "rubbish." Sarajevo, the capital city with 500,000 residents, was a "liberal, multi-cultural and tolerant place." He added that a small number of foreign Islamic mujahedin fighters had stayed on in rural villages after the war's end, but he denied that any movement existed to introduce Islamic laws or ban alcohol.

"I've seen more veiled people in London and met more fundamentalists in Bradford [in northern England], than I have in Sarajevo—the only way the hard-liners can stay in power is by frightening people, and propaganda about an Islamic menace is just part and parcel of that," Bird said.

"The international community has made great progress in instilling the idea that it's not your ethnic group which counts, but having rights as a citizen, backed by the rule of law. If we stay on the ground and finish the job, getting the economy back on its feet in a stable society, this will be the surest way of integrating this country into a peaceful ...

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