Bosnia missing EU train, Clinton warns

Mostar bridge Bosnia.jpg

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Bosnia yesterday (12 October) that it must catch up with its neighbours and integrate into Europe, saying it was time for the country to unite to deliver the promise of 1995 peace accords.

In a meeting with Sarajevo university students, Clinton praised the progress made so far but said much more needed to be done to cement Bosnia's European future.

"Hatreds have eased, but nationalism persists. Meanwhile, the promise of greater stability and opportunity, represented by integration into Europe, remains out of reach," Clinton said, urging the country to set aside ethnic differences and meet requirements for joining the European Union and NATO.

"Your neighbours have taken strides in that direction. They know that there is no better way to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term political stability than by integrating with Europe," Clinton said. "Now is the time for the citizens of this country to make your voices heard."

Clinton's trip, which also takes her to Serbia and Kosovo, comes a week after Bosnian polls that appeared likely to prolong deadlock between its Muslim, Croat and Serb populations.

US officials say they hope the visit to Bosnia, which then President Bill Clinton helped shepherd to independence after Yugoslavia's collapse, will boost efforts to strengthen the central government and launch political and economic reforms.

"The Clinton family is ready to get engaged personally to help Bosnia-Herzegovina because Bill Clinton wants to see his project successfully completed," Bakir Izetbegovic, newly elected as the Muslim member of Bosnia's joint presidency, said in describing his conversation with Clinton.

'False promises'

In Sarajevo, Clinton spoke to young people who barely remember the 1992-95 war in which about 100,000 people were killed, and she urged them to look to the future.

"I urged them as I urge every citizen to reject false promises of self-serving nationalist agendas," Clinton told a gathering of Bosnian Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders after opening a new building of the US embassy in Sarajevo.

"Nobody will create a stable and prosperous future of this country by stoking animosities of the past. Those will lead only to more distrust, disunion, stagnation and poverty," she said.

Fifteen years after the war's end, Bosnia lags Western Balkan nations hoping to join the EU and eventually NATO – goals which Brussels and Washington say are key to regional stability. US officials want Bosnia to speed constitutional and economic reforms necessary for eventual EU membership.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Hillary's husband Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, is extremely popular in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), as he oversaw the Dayton peace agreement of 1995 which put an end to the three and a half year long war in Bosnia.

Following BiH's declaration of independence in 1992, a bitter conflict ensued between Serbs, Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats, claiming 100,000 lives. Eventual international military intervention under UN auspices culminated in a NATO bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, which led to the Dayton Agreement that created the current constitution and geopolitical structure of BiH.

The conflict involved ethnic cleansing and a number of atrocities were committed – worst of all the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, when an estimated 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed by the army of the Republika Srpska and other paramilitary units, despite the presence of 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers in the area.

BiH is officially a federation, divided into two partner entities with considerable independence: the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. Each has its own government, legislature and police force, but the two come together to form a central, federal government with an eight-month rotating presidency held equally by a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb.

Responsibility for the civilian maintenance of the Dayton Agreement lies with the High Representative (HR), who has also served as the EU's Special Representative since 2002. Security and stability is maintained by an international military peacekeeping force, which transferred from NATO to the EU in 2004.

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