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Bosnia: UN Security Council Condemns Croat Self-Rule Moves

  • Robert McMahon

The UN Security Council has condemned recent moves by nationalists to unilaterally create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia. The council expressed its unanimous support for the international high representative's efforts to combat this separatist move. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports that the council statement followed a generally positive briefing by the high representative on the situation in Bosnia.

United Nations, 23 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- With ethnic tensions again running high in the Balkans, the UN Security Council has applauded actions by the high representative in Bosnia taken against Croat separatists who are threatening the country's peace agreement.

The council unanimously approved a statement yesterday (Thursday) condemning efforts by some Croat nationalists to proclaim self-governance in areas controlled by Bosnia's Croat minority.

The statement came after Council members and Croatia's UN ambassador supported the decision of High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch earlier this month to remove Ante Jelavic as a member of the Bosnia joint presidency and ban him from involvement with any political party.

Petritsch told the Council he made his decision because Jelavic and his party -- the Croat Democratic Union -- had consistently threatened the constitutional order in Bosnia and the country's peace.

He said Jelavic's party boycotted official institutions, Jelavic himself attended a rally in support of convicted war criminals and, finally, his party announced a plan for self-rule. But Petritsch also said the aim of Jelavic and other nationalists was really to preserve a state of lawlessness in which they have profited enormously.

"For many years, nationalists of Mr. Jelavic's stripe got rich by exploiting fear and suspicion among a population that is still trying to get over the terror of the war." The Croat ambassador to the United Nations, Ivan Simonovic, told the Council that Petritsch acted appropriately against radical politicians. But Simonovic also said Bosnian Croats continue to harbor legitimate fears that they are underrepresented in the country's official entities, which are dominated by Serbs and Muslims. He said there has been a systematic departure of Croats from Bosnia in the past 10 years and a very poor rate of minority Croats returning to areas such as the Serb entity Republika Srpska.

The Security Council, in its statement yesterday, also expressed concern about the pace of refugee returns, saying it was too slow, particularly in urban areas. But Petritsch was generally positive in his outlook for Bosnia. He said the new state-level and entity-level governments formed after elections last November were dominated by non-nationalists and moderates.

He said that despite the activities of Bosnian Croat radicals, nationalists were losing ground politically throughout Bosnia. Petritsch said it was significant that the new state-level prime minister, Bozidar Matic, has announced plans to implement market reforms, create jobs and expedite the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Bosnians to their homes.

Petritsch said recent confidence-building measures resulted in the registered return last year of 67,000 people who were minorities, a large increase from the year before. In January of this year, there were 4,000 minority returns, compared to 1,700 such returns during the same period last year.

"When a Bosniak (Muslim) refugee has the confidence to return to a place like Srebrenica, site of Europe's worst refugee massacre since World War II, you can make a pretty safe bet that the nationalist message is losing ground. I will continue to act decisively to remove any officials who obstruct the rule of law in the vital area of returns."

Yesterday's Security Council statement also noted the recent agreement on a special relationship between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republika Srpska. It urged Petritsch to closely follow the implementation of this agreement and monitor any amendments to it to make sure the territorial integrity of Bosnia is preserved.

The U.S. representative on the council, Mark Minton, said yesterday the United States has deep concerns about the agreement between Belgrade and Srpska.

"It is important that the high representative monitor the final details of this agreement to ensure that it does not undermine the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina or violate the Dayton Peace agreement in any way."

Yugoslavia's new ambassador to the United Nations, Dejan Sahovic, said his government was fully committed to implementing and respecting the Dayton accords. He stressed that the agreement signed with the Republika Srpska would respect the sovereignty of Bosnia. Belgrade and Sarajevo, he said, were in the process of reaching agreement in areas such as trade, customs, and transport.