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Bosnia: New Prime Minister Defies Indifference

Prague, 22 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The weekend election of pro-Western moderate Milorad Dodik as Prime Minister of the Serb-run half of Bosnia has many questioning whether it is a breakthrough or breakdown in the state of political affairs for Republika Srpska (RS).

Hailed as a potential savior of the Bosnian peace process by the West and branded a corrupt "stooge" by hardline Bosnian-Serb nationalists, Dodik defies indifference.

The 38-year-old Prime Minister managed to secure a slim majority in the 83-seat parliament with votes from a remarkable alliance -- Bosnian Muslim and Croat deputies representing mainly refugees. The vote came in the early hours of Sunday, after Bosnian-Serb hardline nationalists walked out of the session after 12 hours of heated debate.

The nationalists -- who comprise a bloc loyal to twice-indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic -- have already warned that their parties will not recognize the authority of the new government. One of them, Aleksa Buha, leader of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), of which Dodik was once a member, denounced the move as a "coup d'etat." The other hardline leaders who rejected the new administration were Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb representative on Bosnia's collective Presidency and Nikola Poplasen, leader of the Radical Party.

Poplasen is quoted by the Serb news agency, SRNA, as saying Dodik's election virtually means the "division of the Republika Srpska into two." And he blamed the division on Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, with the help of the international community. Krajisnik has said the election by the rump parliament will drive the republic to "the verge of chaos."

Security reportedly first and foremost in mind, the NATO-led peacekeeping force stepped up patrols around interior ministry buildings held by the hardliners in the early hours following the vote. In the three days since, there have been NO reports of violence.

Latest reports quote political sources as saying Dodik is engaged in intensive negotiations with leaders of the former ruling party to ensure a peaceful transition. But there have been little details. Hans Schumacher, the Deputy High Representative to Bosnia, told reporters in Banja Luka yesterday that there is no evidence of any "obstructionist" activities, either by the new government or from the old nationalist government in Pale.

The altered political landscape has fueled speculation that the NATO alliance might launch more arrest operations against indicted war criminals among the ranks of Serb hardliners, including Karadzic.

In a recent interview with the Bosnian Serb magazine "Reporter," Dodik was asked whether he would hand over Karadzic to the U.N. War Crimes Court in The Hague. He was said to have replied, "If I have the opportunity to do so."

But the International Crisis Group (ICG), in a statement delivered to RFE/RL today, said it was up to the international community to lead the way. The independent monitoring group said Dodik will be unlikely to turn around the fortunes of the entity or secure peace for the public, until NATO removes indicted war criminals from society and delivers them to the Hague.

In the view of the ICG, Dodik represents the biggest breakthrough for Bosnia-Herzegovina's peace process since the signing of the Dayton peace accord.

The United States and the European Union have offered full support to the new government and pledged an increase in reconstruction aid, if the government lives up to its promise to adhere to the Dayton peace treaty.

Russia, a traditional ally of the Serbs, yesterday expressed satisfaction with the creation of executive bodies in the Bosnian Serb Republic after what it called "acute political confrontation."

And Duncan Bullivant, a spokesman for Carlos Westendorp -- the top international mediator for peace in Bosnia -- said the Dodik election shows that Serb hard-liners have lost their authority and will only continue to loose power in the days and months ahead.

With only days left until the handover of power, and the convening of the People's Assembly of the Serb Republic scheduled for this Saturday in Banja Luka, questions of power and authority will certainly rise to the fore of current Bosnian political debate.