Western Powers Debate Bosnia’s Future

resizer164Representatives from the EU, the US, and Russia among others are meeting in Sarajevo, where they are expected to debate the international community’s future role in Bosnia and Herzegovina and confirm the country’s new top international envoy.

The conference of the Peace Implementation Council started in the Bosnian capital on Wednesday with a discussion between local and international officials about the current political situation in the country.

One western diplomat attending the meeting told Balkan Insight that all the international representatives have been encouraged by the calmer and forward-looking attitude that is now coming from local politicians. Local leaders said they were pleased with the more unified messages coming from the usually-divided international community.

The meeting continued on Thursday without the presence of Bosnian officials. Senior international officials are expected to discuss the future international presence in Bosnia, including confirmation of Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko as the new head of the Office of the High Representative, OHR, and prolongation of OHR’s mandate until mid or late 2009.

Two weeks ago, the EU leadership appointed the 59-year old Austrian diplomat as the new EU Special Representative for Bosnia. His appointment as High Representative was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

“The main focus of my mandate will be aimed at fulfillment of conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative and the advancement of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards EU integration,” Inzko told Balkan Insight in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The PIC conference is taking place during the worst political crisis in Bosnia since the end of the 1992-1995 war. The remaining conditions for the OHR’s closure include the normalisation of the political situation, as well as regulating the constitutional status of Brcko District and resolving the ownership of state property, both issues that were left unresolved at the time of the original peace agreement.

Despite escalating political tension over the past few months, local leaders have managed to make headway in fulfilling these two conditions. Legislation to regularise the status of Brcko District is expect to be adopted by Parliament on Thursday.

Breakthrough on these issues was achieved by the leaders of the three main nationalist parties, Milorad Dodik of the Serb Alliance of Social Democrats, Dragan Covic of the Croat Democratic Union and Sulejman Tihic, of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) Party of Democratic Action, who held a series of meetings over the past three months.

However, meetings of the three leaders, the so-called Prud group, were halted in February because of escalating political tension.

The three leaders met again on Wednesday, just ahead of the PIC conference, and agreed to continue working toward a resolution of the state property issue. They also agreed that the reform of Bosnia’s constitution should be initiated through appropriate steps in Parliament.

Since Bosnian Serb leaders are eager to see OHR closed, they are expected to make compromises that will allow the OHR’s closure by the end of this year, local and international officials and analysts say.

After that, Inzko’s main task will be to lead and oversee transition of the OHR into new and reinforced Office of the EU Special Representative.

In October 2008, Secretary-General of the EU Council Javier Solana and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn presented their ideas for Bosnia’s future prospects in light of EU enlargement. The EU leadership continues to develop a strategy for Bosnia, which should be clearer by the time of OHR’s closure, a senior EU diplomat told Balkan Insight.

The main source of disagreement and uncertainty within the international community is over the current and future use of the “Bonn Powers”, which authorise the High Representative to dismiss officials or enact legislation if this is deemed necessary to facilitate peace implementation. The previous High Representative, Miroslav Lajcak, admitted that he was unable to use these powers because of a lack of international support for the OHR.

Apparently learning from Lacak’s failure, Inzko undertook an intensive tour through Washington, Brussels, London, Moscow and other European capitals in an effort to secure an unprecedented level of support even before officially taking office.

“The Bonn Powers should stay for the time being, but only as a last resort, only after all other options are tried,” Inzko told Balkan Insight. He said that in addition to politics, he intends to work on assisting local leaders in improving the economic and social situation. “We cannot talk about democracy on peoples’ empty stomachs.”

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