Former US ambassador calls for Bosnia’s dissolution

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A former US ambassador to the Western Balkans has said the best solution to Bosnia and Herzegovina's problems would be for the country to break up into two separate entities. The US authorities distanced themselves from the "politically incorrect" statement, while Bosnian Muslim leaders accused the former diplomat of pursuing a self-interested agenda.

William Montgomery, a former US Ambassador to Croatia, said that 15 years after the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was still a "problematic" country which had not solved any of its major problems.

It was therefore only "realistic" to consider its dissolution, Montgomery concluded rather abruptly.

The former US diplomat, who left in 2004, made the statement on Sarajevo-based television channel TV1 last weekend. His comments were subsequently taken up by Croat press agency HINA and he was widely quoted by other media.

"No-one in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be forced to remain in a country that is not functioning and one of the possible solutions is the separation of Republika Srpska and a peaceful dissolution of the country," he said.

Montgomery, who was US ambassador to Croatia (1998-2000) and Yugoslavia (2001-2004), left the State Department but remained in the Western Balkans afterwards, where he has reportedly been active as a businessman. He has published many opinion articles and is often critical of US policy in the region.

Embarrassment

The US Embassy in Sarajevo issued a statement on 1 November saying that the former diplomat was not speaking on behalf of the US government.

"Our position on Bosnia and Herzegovina is well known and unchanged. The US fully supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina," the embassy said in the statement.

A similar response came from the EU's Office of the High Representative (OHR), its police mission in the country, which in a statement said that dissolution was "impossible".

The leading Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] Party of Democratic Action (SDA) labelled Montgomery as a mere "former diplomat making irresponsible statements".

Business interests?

The leader of the Muslim Bosniak Alliance for a Better Future (SBB) party, Fahrudin Radon?i?, responded by claiming that Montgomery's statement could be explained "by his lobbying activities".

The former US ambassador is "primarily an advocate of greater Croatian privatisation interests," said Radon?i?, a businessman, politician and owner of several media, including Dnevni Avaz, a widely circulated daily newspaper in Sarajevo.

Radon?i? hinted that splitting Bosnia and Herzegovina would suit Montgomery's business interests.

A similar view for Kosovo?

William Montgomery has been consistent in his views regarding the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Writing for the New York Times last year, Montgomery called upon the West to stop thinking that it could "establish fully functioning multiethnic societies in Bosnia and Kosovo with no change in borders".

The former Serbian province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, is still unable to exercise its authority over its Serb-populated northern part.

"Like an alcoholic whose first step is to recognise he has a problem, we need to accept that the current [Western] policies [regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina] are not tenable. Only then can we start thinking constructively about solutions which can bring lasting stability to the region," Montgomery wrote.

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Situated at the heart of the Western Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) experienced the worst of the ethno-nationalist fighting that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The country suffered large-scale death and destruction in a complex war, the implications of which still very much resonate today.

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 the auspices of the UN 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 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 (click here for more).

EU leaders have repeatedly warned BiH that continued political in-fighting between Serb, Muslim and Croat nationalists is driving the country away from its aspirations to move closer to the European Union.

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