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Bosnia: Bosnian Serbs Boycott Joint Parliament

Prague, 8 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The boycott by newly elected Bosnian Serb deputies of the inaugural session of Bosnia's House of Representatives has raised speculation as to whether the parliament comprising deputies from the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic will ever be fully functional.

The Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia's collective presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, led the boycott. But he insisted it was not a boycott at all.

Krajisnik said the venue of the swearing-in ceremony -- the National Theater building in Sarajevo -- was not safe. He offered six alternative sites including the airport, the suburb of Dobrinja, the Ilidza hotel complex, the Vrace memorial complex, the U.S. embassy or any other embassy in Sarajevo. None was accepted.

In some ways, the boycott might have served to underscore Bosnian Serbs' disappointment with recent steps to strengthen the unitary image of the Bosnian federation. In the days prior to the ceremony, Bosnian Serb leaders had expressed anger with the agreement reached in Paris by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and head of Bosnian collective presidency Alija Izetbegovic on mutual diplomatic recognition. Krajisnik said Izetbegovic had no right to sign the deal on his own without the express approval by two other presidency members.

The accord followed a post-election warning by U. S. envoy Richard Holbrooke against any Bosnian Serb attempt at secession from Bosnia. This made any Bosnian Serb attempt at secession considerably more difficult if not impossible,

Another issue concerns the oath of office pledging allegiance to a united Bosnia-Herzegovina. The text was drawn by international envoy Carl Bildt.

Krajisnik said that the Bosnian Serbs had accepted the text. But Bosnian Serb spokesman Slobodan Bijelic rejected it.

"We have ethical principles," he said. "We do not want to be perjurers and we cannot swear on something that no realistic person in Bosnia-Herzegovina can believe in anymore."

Krajisnik has often said the Bosnian Serbs are ready for the joint representative bodies to be formed as soon as possible. He also has said that allegations about the Bosnian Serbs having no intention to work in joint Bosnian institutions are unfounded.

Some Federation leaders have expressed disappointment with the Bosnian Serb boycott, but Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic said yesterday that Muslims and Croats should ignore the move and get on with establishing new institutions without the Serbs. The Sarajevo daily "Ajvaz" quoted Muratovic yesterday as saying that the Bosnian Serbs simply "do not want to participate in the new joint institutions."

Perhaps not too surprisingly, support for the Serb boycott came from the main Bosnian Croat party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Its chief Bozo Rajic yesterday said he understood the Bosnian Serb decision.

HDZ deputies over the weekend boycotted the inaugural session of the Sarajevo cantonal assembly, allegedly because Muslim deputies rejected a Croatian proposal on power sharing. Rajic told Radio Herceg Bosna that the boycotts "have let the Muslims and the international community know that Croats and Serbs will never agree to concessions that trample and sling mud at their national interests."

Krajisnik's decision was criticized by many, including international envoy Carl Bildt who said that staying away from a ceremony was as good for the Serbs as shooting themselves in the foot.

In Washington yesterday, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the U.S. government is "furious" with the decision by Krajisnik not to participate in the opening of the national assembly. He warned that the "fundamental unwillingness" of the Bosnian Serb leadership to meet their commitments could result in the United States appealing to the UN Security Council to reimpose sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs and Serbia.

Burns went on to say that U.S. diplomats delivered a "very stiff" note to Krajisnik putting the Bosnian Serb leader and his colleagues on notice that the United States "expects them to take steps in the next couple of days to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process."

Criticism also came from within the Bosnian Serb republic. The Social Liberal Party, one of the five parties in the left-wing pro-Belgrade opposition Alliance for Peace and Progress (SMP), issued a statement saying that the failure of Krajisnik and the Bosnian Serb deputies to attend the session represents "obstruction of the work of Bosnia's joint organs."

The statement also said that "if the venue was not a problem for either Carl Bildt or the representatives of the rump-Yugoslavia, Croatia and the United States, all of whom signed the Dayton agreement, then it should not have been a problem for the Bosnian Serb deputies."

It said that the Bosnian Serb republic could only find itself in " new conflict situations." The statement concluded that "this is yet further proof that Momcilo Krajisnik and his aides are working directly against the interests of the Serb people."

Press correspondents say that of the 11 Bosnian Serb deputies in the Bosnian House of Representatives who failed to show up for the session, two are from the opposition alliance and were prevented by Bosnian Serb police from going to Sarajevo for the session. The other nine MPs are members of Krajisnik's SDS.