SARAJEVO – Fears of a new conflict over Bosnia can be ruled out, a senior US diplomat said Monday after meeting the nation’s ethnic Serb leader who has been accused of endangering peace.
A decade after Bosnia’s bloody 1990s war, the international community pressed ethnic Serbs into a joint army with the nation’s ethnic Croats and Muslims.
But, the Serb member of Bosnia’s joint presidency, Milorad Dodik, who has repeatedly threatened secessionist moves, had recently warned the Serbs could pull out of the army and set up their own.
Dodik has labelled Bosnia a “failed country” and, also warned ethnic Serbs could withdraw from other joint institutions, including the judiciary and tax system.
But US deputy assistant secretary for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, sought to allay the concerns.
“The most important thing that we agreed with all of the interlocutors that we’ve met with today … is that we all agreed that there will be no war,” Escobar told reporters in Sarajevo,
And that view was shared by other leaders in the region, he added.
Escobar spoke after meeting Dodik as well as the Muslim and Croat members of the presidency — Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic respectively.
The 1992-1995 war left Bosnia split into two-semi independent entities — the Serbs’ Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.
They are held together by weak central institutions, including the presidency and a joint army.
Dodik has for years regularly called for Republika Srpska to secede, arguing that Bosnia was an “experiment by the international community”.
Escobar, in an interview with Radio Free Europe last week, accused Dodik of provoking a new crisis to “protect his power and his money”.
But, the US diplomat said Monday the Bosnian Serb leader was “open to discussing withdrawing all of the legislation that would weaken the central institutions”.
The US, which hosted talks on the peace deal that ended the 1992-1995 war, supports Bosnia’s “territorial integrity”, Escobar stressed.
– ‘We will go to the end’ –
Dodik told reporters he was ready to discuss downsizing the joint army which has around 10,000 soldiers and civilian employees.
But, he stressed Bosnian Serbs “will not hesitate to continue with our (announced) activities.”
“Of course, we will go to the end with that. No one should doubt that.
“We do not want a unitary Bosnia, done the way Americans and the Westerners see it,” Dodik said.
In a report to the UN Security Council this month, the international community’s top envoy to Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, warned the country was facing the “greatest existential threat of the post-war period”.
Schmidt claimed Dodik and other Bosnian Serb leaders “endanger … the peace and stability of the country and the region” and called on the international community to react.
Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war claimed some 100,000 lives.