Clinton urges Bosnians to set ethnic divisions aside


THE UNITED States and the European Union have rejected talk of the collapse of Bosnia, and urged its leaders to overcome ethnic division and focus on a push for membership of the EU and Nato.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton delivered a pep talk in Sarajevo yesterday, amid growing western concern over the glacial pace of reform in Bosnia, frequent rows between Muslim, Serb and Croat politicians, and anger at recent comments from Belgrade.

“We are here today to urge the leaders to put aside their political differences, put aside the rhetoric of dissolution, secession, denial of what tragically happened in the war, for the sake of the young people of this country,” Mrs Clinton said.

“If you do not make progress you will be left behind,” she added, at the start of a Balkan tour on which the two women are also visiting Serbia and Kosovo, to reaffirm the commitment of Washington and Brussels to foster a peaceful future for former Yugoslavia in the western fold.

Bosnia is lagging behind its neighbours in the pursuit of EU and Nato membership, largely due to discord between the leaders of the two regions that were created in the country by the Dayton Accords, which ended the 1992-1995 war that killed some 100,000 people.

The Muslim-Croat Federation and Serb-run Republika Srpska have considerable powers to govern their own affairs, but the EU and US have long sought to gradually weaken these regions in favour of a stronger, multiethnic central administration in Sarajevo.

The majority Muslims favour a more unified Bosnia, but many Serbs fear that a Muslim-dominated state may some day seek to avenge the wartime atrocities that were mostly committed by Serbs against Muslims.

Nationalist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has threatened to seek independence for Republika Srpska rather than give powers to Sarajevo.

The new Serb president, Tomislav Nikolic, has added fuel to the fire by denying that the 1995 Bosnian Serb massacre of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica was genocide, and by last week claiming that Bosnia still “does not function, and it is slowly disappearing before our eyes”.

Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic said Mr Nikolic’s comments reminded him of wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic – who is now on trial for war crimes and genocide – and could cause “irreparable damage to relations between Bosnia and Serbia”.

“It is totally unacceptable that 17 years after the war ended, some still question Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mrs Clinton said.

“Such talk is a distraction from the problems facing this country, and serves only to undermine the goal of European integration.

The Dayton Accords must be respected and preserved – period.”

Mrs Clinton stressed that “joining the European Union and Nato offers this country the best path to lasting stability and prosperity” but bemoaned the fact that “key reforms have not yet been made”.