World News

Bosnia must use momentum to reform: U.S. diplomat

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia’s leaders should use the momentum of a serious Western engagement to agree reforms that will speed up the country’s integration into the European Union and NATO, a senior U.S. diplomat said.

EU and U.S. officials arrive in Sarajevo on Monday to resume talks with Bosnia’s politicians on ways to overcome a deadlock that is jeopardizing stability in the country and wider region.

“We have the attention of top leaders from the United States and the European Union,” said U.S. Ambassador Charles English, referring to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who run the talks.

“Local leaders must understand that now is the time to take advantage of that attention, make necessary compromises and guarantee Bosnia-Herzegovina a quicker path to Euro-Atlantic integration,” English told Reuters in a weekend interview.

In early October, Bildt and Steinberg announced talks with Bosnia’s rival ethnic leaders aimed at settling their differences and clearing the way for the country’s EU candidacy.

But an October 9 meeting near Sarajevo failed to produce agreements and diplomats acknowledged tough negotiations.

Under the Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war, Bosnia was split into the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic, the two autonomous regions joined in an uneasy co-existence under a weak central government.

The Serb Republic’s separatist policies and rivalry between the two regions have endangered the functioning of the state and halted reforms, widening fears of a new conflict and instability in the Balkans.

English said a reform package, to be discussed on October 20-21, would include measures to close down an international protectorate office (OHR) and constitutional reforms to help Bosnia’s NATO and EU accession.

The Bosnian Serbs have long urged the OHR closure but refuse to accept changes to the Dayton constitution fearing they could lose some of their wide autonomy.

“Those who impose solutions will be held responsible for the deterioration of the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the answer of Serb Republic citizens will be a referendum (on secession),” Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has said.

Muslims and Croats want guarantees that once a powerful international envoy leaves, a mechanism will remain in place to protect the state from blockades and Serb secession.

While the EU favours quick transition of OHR into an office of EU Special Representative, the United States and Turkey want it accompanied by constitutional changes that will ensure quicker EU integration.

Bosnia’s three former international envoys -- Britain’s Paddy Ashdown, Austria’s Wolfgang Petritsch and Germany’s Christian Schwarz-Schilling -- have urged the international community to maintain a “reserve power to internationally guarantee Bosnia’s peace after the OHR closure.”

Editing by Janet Lawrence