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Bosnia: High Representative Sacks Bosnian Croat From Presidency

The international community's High Representative for Bosnia has dismissed Bosnian Croat leader Ante Jelavic from the country's collective presidency. Jelavic, a Croat nationalist, is the highest-ranking Bosnian official yet to be sacked by the high representative under sweeping powers granted to the international community in Bosnia. RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz examines the reasons behind the dismissal and the process for replacing Jelavic.

Prague, 8 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Bosnian Croat nationalist leader Ante Jelavic is facing a lifetime ban from public office after being sacked from Bosnia's three-member presidency by the international community's High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch.

Petritsch announced the dismissal of Jelavic and three other Bosnian Croat officials yesterday. He accused them of working to undermine the 1995 Dayton peace accords which brought an end to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. The Dayton accords also set up Bosnia's inter-ethnic presidency and created two entities within Bosnia -- a joint Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb entity known as Republika Srpska.

Jelavic and his nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, at a meeting in Mostar last weekend (3 March), had threatened to declare self-rule in three Bosnian cantons where ethnic Croats form the majority of the population. Such a move effectively would have brought an end to the federation. Jelavic also had demanded that Petritsch rescind changes made last year to Bosnia's election laws.

Yesterday, shortly before Petritsch announced his decision to sack the Bosnian Croat leader, Jelavic said he would consider dismissal by Petritsch to be an honor.

Petritsch, in turn, accused Jelavic of working only in the interests of extreme nationalist Croats -- and even for some organized criminal groups with alleged links to his HDZ.

Petritsch's spokesman Patrik Volf tells RFE/RL that Petritsch made the decision to dismiss Jelavic only after consulting with officials from the United States and the European Union.

"The removal of Mr Ante Jelavic and three other HDZ officials from their public offices has to do with their illegal attempt to undermine the constitutional order of the Federation of the State of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On Saturday [3 March] in Mostar they declared an illegal parallel structure in this country. This is, of course, unacceptable and in absolute defiance of the Dayton peace accords."

In Zagreb, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan attributed the sacking to the extremist views of Jelavic and his HDZ. Croatian President Stipe Mesic has said that the HDZ has no legal right to pretend it is the sole representative of ethnic Croats in Bosnia. Mesic told RFE/RL earlier this week that Jelavic's decision at Mostar would be disastrous for individual Croats in Bosnia.

"The recent events in Mostar demonstrate that there are still forces trying to enforce the ethnic division of Bosnia. Regardless of whether working in Bosnia or Croatia itself, they will eventually be defeated. It is our duty to support the role of individual Croats within Bosnia who are not for the division of the country -- to support their political stance and to strengthen them."

Mesic said that while Jelavic had received financial and political support from the late President Franjo Tudjman's regime, Zagreb had dropped its support for Bosnian Croat nationalists since a pro-European reformist government came to power in Zagreb just over a year ago, in the aftermath of Tudjman's death.

"With regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Zagreb's official position has changed completely since the previous regime (of Tudjman). Now we recognize the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina and we are encouraging local Croats -- Bosnian Croats-- to seek all the solutions to their problems within the institutions of Bosnia. To stop looking toward Zagreb and to turn themselves toward Sarajevo."

The Bosnian-Croat post in Bosnia's three-member presidency is to be filled by an ethnic Croat nominated and approved by the Muslim-Croat federation's two-chamber parliament.

Forty-two deputies in the lower chamber, known as the House of Representatives, have the responsibility of making the initial nomination. Jelavic's HDZ controls about 18 percent of the parliamentary seats in the lower chamber.

Whoever is nominated by the lower chamber must then be confirmed by Bosnia's upper chamber, known as the House of the People. It remains unclear how long it would take the parliament to complete the entire process.