Clinton: Bosnia risks being left behind on EU/NATO path

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed Bosnia on Tuesday to overcome ethnic infighting and pursue constitutional reforms needed for any chance of joining NATO and the European Union.

“If you do not make progress you will be left behind,” Clinton said at the start of a trip with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to three Balkan nations still coming to terms with the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“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,” Clinton told a news conference after meeting Bosnia’s tripartite presidency.

Bosnia remains deeply divided 17 years since the end of its 1992-95 war, which killed 100,000 people before the United States, under then President Bill Clinton, brokered peace at an air base in Dayton, Ohio.

Power is shared uneasily between Serbs, Croats and Muslims in an unwieldy state ruled by ethnic quotas. Bosnia lags behind its ex-Yugoslav neighbors on the road to the EU membership.

Croatia, already a member of NATO, is due to become the second country carved from Yugoslavia to join the EU in July next year. Slovenia did so in 2004.

Montenegro has started EU accession talks and Serbia and Macedonia are both official candidates for membership. Bosnia has yet to meet the conditions to apply. Clinton and Ashton were due in Serbia and its former province Kosovo later on Tuesday.

Clinton implored Bosnia’s leaders to reach a deal on the ownership of defense property, the last condition of accession to NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP), a stepping stone to joining the Western military alliance.

If they reach agreement, Clinton said, “I will personally go to the NATO ministerial in Brussels in December to push for MAP to be given to you.”

Ashton said the 27-nation EU wanted to see “effective and determined action from the authorities.”

That includes agreement on reforming the constitution to address a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that it discriminates against minorities.

The West invested heavily to cement peace and rebuild Bosnia, but people there have opposing visions of its future.

Bosnia’s Muslims want the central state strengthened, but are opposed by leaders of the autonomous Serb Republic who frequently threaten secession.

Clinton said such notions were “totally unacceptable”.

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