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New Peace Envoy Gets Indefinite Mandate In Bosnia


Valentin Inzko, the new EU high representative

Valentin Inzko, the new EU high representative

SARAJEVO (Reuters) -- A new international peace envoy took office in Bosnia amid concerns about growing instability there that prompted diplomats to give him an indefinite mandate.

Austria's Valentin Inzko immediately pledged to help the Balkan country -- scene of a war between 1992-95, in which about 100,000 people died -- join the European mainstream.

But others, including Russia, said the extension of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) would only hamper Bosnia's progress.

A 1995 peace agreement installed a foreign diplomat to oversee the peace process and the international community later gave him the authority to dismiss elected officials and overturn laws.

Foreign officials had hoped to end that role entrusted to the OHR by summer and turn over reduced powers to the European Union, but have now delayed that plan.

"I think it is a little premature to take the training wheels off at this moment, until the Bosnian authorities demonstrate they've got their hands on the handlebars," Raffi Gregorian, who has served as acting high representative, said in an interview. “They aren't pedaling enough to keep the bike upright without training wheels."

Continued instability could complicate the entire region's aspirations to join the EU and improve living standards.

Foreign countries have donated billions of dollars trying to help heal the former Yugoslav republic. But tensions remain high between the Bosnian Serbs in one half of the country and the majority of nominal Muslims, and Croats in the other half.

After a two-day meeting in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, officials from among 55 countries and agencies installed Inzko in office. He will also serve as EU representative to Bosnia.

"I will help you to pick up the pace and move quickly in the process of EU integration," Inzko told a news conference. "The EU is committed that 2009 is the year of the Western Balkans; accordingly this is an opportunity that cannot and should not be missed."

Russia Displeased

The continuation of the OHR displeases Russia and the Bosnian Serb leadership, which believe Bosnia is stable enough to decide its own fate. Russia's ambassador to Bosnia said the focus should rather be on helping the country achieve its aspirations to join the EU.

"Having OHR as an external supervisor they will never become a member of the EU," Konstantin Shuvalov said in an interview. "That is why all the talk about euro prospects for this country will remain just a lip service."

Diplomats say EU members are divided on how soon the OHR should end its supervisory role in Bosnia.

At one time officials thought they could close the OHR in 2007 and they scaled back staffing from about 800 people to 220. But since then tensions have worsened between the Bosnian Serb Republic, which seeks more autonomy, and the Muslim-Croat half, which favors a stronger central government.

Diplomats are set to meet again in June to consider if they should end Bosnia's protectorate status.
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