May 14, 2019 / 3:10 PM / 2 months ago

EU peacekeepers warn Serb leader against dividing Bosnia's armed forces

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - The European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR) in Bosnia warned the Serbian representative on Bosnia’s presidency on Tuesday against saying anything to weaken the country’s multi-ethnic armed forces after he made comments widely seen as divisive.

FILE PHOTO: Newly elected member of Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, Serb member Milorad Dodik, attends a joint news conference during the presidential inauguration ceremony in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The formation of Bosnia’s armed forces (AFBiH), assisted by NATO and EUFOR, has been hailed as the country’s biggest achievement since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, uniting former wartime foes and promoting national stability.

Under the 1995 Dayton peace accords, Bosnia was split into two autonomous regions - the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and a federation shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats. Each region has its own government and parliament.

The AFBiH, formed in 2005, brings together Bosniaks, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat former military components under a state law on defence agreed by all political parties and approved by the national parliament.

But nationalist Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said at a ceremony on Sunday marking the Day of the Serb Republic army (VRS) that the Serb component of Bosnia’s military would wear its own uniform at next year’s ceremony, not that of the united army.

Dodik, who has often criticised Bosnia’s state-level multi-ethnic institutions even while serving as chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency since last October, said the Third Infantry Regiment was part of the Serb Republic army and expected to “defend its achievements” if need be.

EUFOR CONCERN

His comments sparked an angry reaction from Bosniak leaders, who said the VRS had been mentioned in many verdicts by the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a force responsible for killing Bosniaks during the wars of the 1990s.

EUFOR, which in 2004 took over from NATO the task of keeping the peace in Bosnia, said: “Any statements which serve to undermine the AFBiH and their legal status as the single, united, military force of the state of Bosnia are counter-productive and should be avoided.

“EUFOR ... rejects any statements or activities that could divide this organisation and jeopardise the success that AFBiH has achieved in terms of providing a single, state-level, and internationally respected military force, which represents all people of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” it said in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo and the mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also criticised Dodik’s statement, saying it was irresponsible and dangerous.

Bosniak leaders have accused Dodik of arming and beefing up the Serb region’s police, violating the balance of arms between the country’s two regions as agreed under the Dayton peace deal.

EUFOR, whose mandate is to support local authorities in maintaining a stable and secure environment and has around 800 troops deployed in Bosnia, has said it is prepared to intervene at short notice if violence resumes in Bosnia, two decades after the end of an ethnic conflict that killed 100,000 people.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones

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