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Former enemy Serbia donates COVID-19 vaccines to Bosnia's Muslims, Croats

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Former wartime enemy Serbia donated 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Bosniak-Croat region of neighbouring Bosnia on Tuesday, allowing it to launched its inoculation campaign.

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The Bosniak-Croat Federation, one of Bosnia’s two autonomous entities alongside the Serb Republic, has ordered 1.2 million doses under the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme, and nearly 900,000 from the European Union, but has not received any yet.

At Sarajevo airport, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic handed the vaccines to members of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Sefik Dzaferovic, Zeljko Komsic and Milorad Dodik, and vowed to send another 5,000 doses in the coming days.

“I am happy that we can save ... lives with vaccines, it is important and great thing,” Vucic told reporters. “Serbia is acting as a friend and a neighbour.”

In 1992-95, Serbia under then-strongman President Slobodan Milosevic backed nationalist Bosnian Serbs in a devastating war to purge Bosnia of its Muslims and Croats and carve out a Greater Serb homeland. Around 100,000 people were killed.

The 1995 Dayton peace accord created a federal Bosnia divided into two autonomous entities along largely ethnic lines.

Serbia is now at peace with former 1990s foes, including fellow former Yugoslav republic and European Union member state Croatia, and is a candidate to join the EU.

Bosnia is the third ex-Yugoslav republic to receive vaccines from Serbia, after North Macedonia and Montenegro.

“When global multilateral mechanisms ... have failed, President Vucic sent (us) an offer (for vaccines) and we have accepted it,” Dzaferovic said.

Bosnia’s Serb republic, which maintains close ties with Serbia, last month started inoculations with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Belgrade also allocated 5,000 vaccine doses to administer to Serb Republic medical staff.

Around 1 million people in Serbia have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the Western Balkans, inoculations on a much smaller scale are under way in Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania, while Kosovo and the Bosniak-Croat region have yet to launch their campaigns.

So far, Bosnia has recorded 130,979 cases of the new coronavirus and 5,071 deaths.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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