Ian Traynor in Brussels
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 October 2009 21.12 BST
The leader of the Serbian half of Bosnia today demanded the right to break up the country as part of a constitutional reform package that is being pushed by the EU and the US.
Milorad Diodik's demand to be allowed the right to secede collided with an ultimatum from Brussels for Bosnia's feuding leaders to agree on reforms to streamline the dysfuctional state or forget about their prospects of union membership. Senior European and American officials had emergency talks in Sarajevo last week with Bosnia's estranged political leaders and will return next Monday.
The US and Europe have suddenly become active in the Balkans, amid growing international fears that Bosnia could drift back into conflict if the Bosnian Serbs were to mobilise.
"We need certain constitutional changes in Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for enlargement, who issued ultimatum to the country's leaders.
But officials in Brussels and Sarajevo were gloomy about the chances of success. In the 14 years since the Bosnian war ended with the country divided into a Serbian half and a Muslim-Croat federation, the country has become entrenched as a partitioned international protectorate headed by a European viceroy and dominated by nationalist politicians who refuse to deal with one another.
Dodik today told western officials preparing next week's talks that any constitutional reforms would need to include a new article giving the two halves of Bosnia the right to hold a referendum.
"It's an extremist position," said an EU diplomat in Sarajevo. "Dodik has already got everything he wants. Now he wants the right of secession."
Rehn, James Steinberg, the US under-secretary of state, and Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, were in Sarajevo last week in the highest-level bout of diplomacy for years. They are to return on Monday, but Dodik delivered a snub by saying he would be in Serbia then to meet Russian leaders.
The Europeans are signalling that 14 years of international supervision of Bosnia has failed to establish a viable country. They are keen to close down by the end of the year the Office of High Representative, the international official running Bosnia – currently the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, and previously Lord Ashdown.
"The country needs to stand on its own feet," said Rehn. "It needs to be able to govern itself. No quasi-protectorate can join the EU."
But the Europeans and the Americans are at odds. Brussels is pushing for a quick closure of the international role, but the Americans are less keen.
Dodik wants rid of the international viceroy, too, but is not prepared to make the changes needed for the office to be closed down. At the weekend he declared his contempt for the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was "unsustainable", he said, had no "legitimacy" as a country, and ruled out constitutional reform.
The government of the Muslim-Croat half, by contrast, is seeking more centralised powers, arguing that the "Serbian Republic" part of Bosnia is an entity created by wartime ethnic cleansing, genocide, and deportation of non-Serbs.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oc ... way-threat
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