Prague, 1 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Paddy Ashdown's decision to sack 60 Bosnian Serb officials yesterday marks a major escalation of pressure to spur the handover of indicted war crime suspects such as Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic.
Ashdown, the chief international envoy in Bosnia, says the officials in the Bosnian Serb entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina were preventing the capture of Karadzic and others indicted by the international tribunal in The Hague.
"I have, therefore, decided to take measures to clean out the corrupt and obstructionist structures in [Republika Srpska] at all levels and across the entity, but especially within the [Serbian Democratic Party], and to root out those people who bear the heaviest responsibility for creating a climate of secrecy, intimidation and criminal impunity that allows indicted war criminals to evade justice," Ashdown said.
Karadzic was indicted nine years ago by the UN tribunal on charges of genocide for his alleged role in ethnic cleansing operations during the Bosnian conflict -- including the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.
Ashdown said 48 of the officials he sacked will be allowed to return to public administration if Karadzic is eventually transferred to The Hague. But he says Republika Srpska also must demonstrate that it is in full compliance with its commitments under the Dayton accords to cooperate with the UN tribunal.
"There's never been [a purge] on this scale." -- Quintin Hoare, director of the London-based Bosnian Institute
Quintin Hoare, director of the London-based Bosnian Institute, said there is no question about the international legitimacy of Ashdown's authority to sack the officials.
"He's given [the authority to sack the officials] by the Contact Group, which was set up during the Bosnian war [and] which included the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany," Hoare said. "[This was] endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Under the terms of the Dayton agreement, the Office of the High Representative [in Bosnia-Herzegovina] was incorporated as a person who would represent the international community, and then these powers were subsequently expanded. [So] he has the powers with very wide international backing. It's endorsed by the big European powers and the United States."
In fact, a total of about 90 officials from the three entities of Bosnia were sacked by the Office of the High Representative before yesterday's announcement. But Hoare notesd that yesterday's sackings represent the largest single purge by an international envoy to Bosnia.
"There's never been [a purge] on this scale, but there's been quite a lot [of sackings in the past by the Office of the High Representative. Ashdown] is not the only person who has sacked people," Hoare said. "But he's used the sanction more than his predecessor."
Previously sacked senior officials include Anton Jelavic, a former Bosnian Croat member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency; Mirko Sarovic, a former Bosnian-Serb member of the tripartite presidency; and Mriko Poplasen, a former president of Republika Srpska.
The latest sackings follow a decision by NATO leaders at their summit in Istanbul this week not to admit Bosnia as a member of the alliance's Partnership for Peace program. That decision was based on the failure of the Bosnian Serb entity to cooperate with the Hague court.
Wolfgang Petric, Ashdown's predecessor at the Office of the High Representative, told RFE/RL that yesterday's move signals growing international impatience with Bosnian Serb authorities: "My successor Paddy Ashdown's decision to now finally act is a necessary one. Nine years after the end of the war, the international community is running out of patience when it comes to the scheming and the games on the part of some of the politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Petric said he hopes the leaders of Republika Srpska will realize their failure to work with the Hague court is causing hardship for ordinary Bosnian Serbs.
"Common people now, even in the Republika Srpska, realize more and more that this ethno-nationalism has really put them into a corner. And they need to get out of this corner," Petric said. "Hopefully, this 'big bang' now of Paddy Ashdown will facilitate a rethinking and facing up to the responsibilities and to the realities of the past."
Petric concluded that Bosnian Serbs will remain politically isolated from the rest of Europe if authorities in Republika Srpska continue to help those who have been indicted avoid capture.
"There is no economic and social progress possible in Republika Srpska, for the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, unless they deal in a straightforward way with the tragedy of Srebrenica," Petric said. "This will be a very long process, naturally. [But] unless they tackle this issue, there's not going to be a way to Europe. The road to Europe [for Bosnian Serbs] leads via Srebrenica."
In Washington, the U.S. State Department has agreed with Ashdown's assessment that the fired officials and the Serbian Democratic Party have obstructed attempts to capture Karadzic.