World and Nation

Bosnia’s Serbs Threaten To Seek Independence

Bosnian Serb leaders have threatened to pull out of state institutions and are pressing anew for independence from Bosnia-Herzegovina, threatening to throw the fragile, multiethnic country into political crisis once again.

Analysts and observers of the region said the situation could unravel the U.S.-brokered Dayton accords of 1995, which ended a savage war that killed more than 100,000 people, most of them Muslims, between 1992 and 1995. The pact divided Bosnia-Herzegovina into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic, presided over by a decentralized political system that reinforced rather than healed ethnic divisions.

The crisis comes at a critical time, just a few weeks after the U.N. and European Union envoy to Bosnia, Miroslav Lajcak, was appointed foreign minister of his native Slovakia, creating what analysts called a potentially dangerous power vacuum. U.N. officials stressed Tuesday that Lajcak would continue to exercise his powers until a replacement was found.

Srecko Latal, a Bosnia specialist at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Sarajevo, the country’s capital, warned that the West, distracted by the global financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, was ignoring trouble signs in Bosnia, in its own backyard. “The United States and the European Union must engage, not just for the sake of Bosnia but because the world can’t afford to allow what happened the last time,” he said.

Bosnia’s security is guaranteed by 2,000 European Union peacekeepers. But Latal said the force was not strong enough to contain hostilities, should they erupt. Sketching a worst-case scenario, he warned that if the Serb Republic declared independence, neighboring Croatia would respond by sending in troops, and Bosnian Muslims would take up arms.

Bosnian Serb officials, Western diplomats and the police said the crisis began last week when the country’s state police agency sent a report to the State Prosecutor’s Office with allegations involving the Serb Republic’s prime minister, Milorad Dodik.

The case outlined in the State Investigation and Protection Agency report related to corruption, fraud and misuse of finances involving several key government contracts in the Bosnian Serb Republic. They included allegations concerning a $146 million government building in Banja Luka.

Gordan Milosevic, a spokesman for Dodik, said Tuesday by telephone that the allegations were politically motivated. He said the case breached due process because it had been forwarded without the approval of top Bosnian Serb officials in the State Investigation and Protection Agency and the prosecutor’s office.

Dodik expressed indignation last weekend, saying he was the victim of a witch hunt aimed at undermining him and the Bosnian Serb Republic. “Even the little faith I had in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now lost due to this farce with the criminal charges against me,” he said last week. “They have made this country pointless.”

He also vented his ire at a meeting in Mostar, where leaders of Bosnia’s three main ethnic groups were discussing how to press forward with changes to the Constitution. Attendees at the meeting said Dodik stormed out after one hour.