Bosnia's first census since war faces fresh delay

SARAJEVO Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:48am EST

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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia's first census since it was torn apart by war two decades ago faces fresh delay, the European Union said on Wednesday, citing technical issues and a lack of firm support from rival Serb, Muslim and Croat politicians.

The survey could give the most detailed picture yet of what happened to the country's groups after the ethnic cleansing and violence that marked its split from Yugoslavia - how many people communities lost and where survivors moved.

The new count, originally planned for April 2013, could also have ramifications for the unwieldy system of ethnic power-sharing enshrined in the peace accords that ended the war.

But a senior European Union official in Bosnia said on Wednesday "technical problems" would likely force a postponement of six months.

Bosnia must hold a new census if it is to move forward with its stalled bid to one day join the EU. The census had already been delayed from 2011 as political leaders from each community argued over sensitive questions of ethnicity, religion and language.

The wording has now largely been agreed at the political level, but technical work has progressed slowly.

"The initial idea was for the census to be carried out in April of 2013 but there are still a number of technical problems," said Renzo Daviddi, the deputy head of the EU delegation in Bosnia.

He said an international monitoring team supervising preparations had recommended a delay of six months.

"It's clear that in order to get a technical solution there must be the minimal political guidance ... and this has not been happening so far," he told reporters.

Bosnia's last census was carried out in 1991, before an estimated 100,000 people were killed and about 2 million displaced in the war that raged from 1992 to 1995.

Under EU pressure, Bosnia passed long-delayed census legislation in February this year and conducted a pilot count in October.

Bosnia's Muslims, known as Bosniaks, have launched a campaign to make sure members of their ethnic group declare themselves as such in the census, fearing otherwise the results will cement the effects of wartime ethnic cleansing and diminish their influence.

Bosnia was split after the war into two autonomous, ethnically-based regions - the Federation, dominated by Bosniaks and Croats, and the Serb Republic. They are united by a weak central government.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Andrew Heavens)

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