SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia could disintegrate if the international community does not become more involved in this Balkan nation beset by factional divisions, former peace envoys Richard Holbrooke and Paddy Ashdown warned on Wednesday.
"Almost exactly 13 years ago, American leadership brought an end to Bosnia's war through the Dayton peace agreement. As in 1995, resolve and trans-atlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis," they said in an article published by a Bosnian daily.
Holbrooke, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe negotiated the Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian war and Ashdown served as High Representative in Bosnia from 2002 to 2006.
"It is time to pay attention to Bosnia again, if we don't want things to get very nasty quickly. By now, we should all know the price of that," they said.
The Dayton treaty which ended the war split Bosnia into two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation, that have co-existed since in an uneasy alliance under a weak central government based in Sarajevo.
Animosities have deepened since rival leaders Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim chairman of the state inter-ethnic presidency, and Serb Republic Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, came to power in the 2006 parliamentary vote.
"Dodik professes to respect Dayton and Silajdzic wishes to revise it, but both men are violating its basic principle: a federal system within a single state. This toxic interaction is at the heart of today's Bosnian crisis," the diplomats warned.
They said that as a result of these animosities "the suspicion and fear that began the war in 1992 has been reinvigorated."
"This tipping point is the result of a distracted international community," they said, adding the U.S. administration had turned its back on Bosnia, while the European Union has not developed a coherent strategy for the country.
They said the disintegration can be avoided if the EU realises the risks and the new U.S. administration actively engages in preserving the Bosnian state through an effective troop presence and by finding ways to untie Bosnia's constitutional knot.
"The EU has weakened not only its own influence in the country, but also the Office of the High Representative and the international military presence...the drivers of progress in Bosnia since Dayton," they said.
Reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Adam Tanner and Matthew Jones