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Bosnia: Country Bracing For Possible UN Exit

Yesterday's U.S. veto of the renewal of the United Nations mandate in Bosnia, if carried through, is likely to have serious consequences for security in Bosnia and stability elsewhere in southeastern Europe.

Prague, 1 July 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Though all sides seem to agree that the U.S. veto of the United Nations policing mandate in Bosnia was not intended to harm or threaten Bosnia, observers admit the security of the fractured Balkan country may suffer as a result.

The U.S. vetoed the extension of the UN mandate yesterday, when the UN refused to grant U.S. peacekeepers immunity from prosecution at the newly established International Criminal Court, which came into force today.

The U.S. veto will mean a dramatic reduction in the activities of the UN mission, most notably in terms of policing and police training.

Bosnian Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said today the UN's achievements in Bosnia since peace was established by the Dayton accords in late 1995 "could be called into question if the UN Security Council does not pass the six-month extension for the UN mission in Bosnia."

And UN mission spokesman Stefo Lehmann said in Sarajevo today that unless the dispute is resolved in the coming days, the peacekeeping mission will have to be liquidated, a process that he said would take six months to complete. As a result, Lehmann said, many of the UN's tasks in Bosnia would not be completed, including a reform of Bosnia's police.

U.S. official Jacques Klein heads the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH). He said the setback would result in additional security burdens being placed on the NATO-led Stabilization Force, or SFOR, which is not likely to be withdrawn. "The problem I think you have in Bosnia is that if we leave here, UNMIBH will no longer be able to participate in the whole rule of law, the creation of what we've done here in structuring the police force. It basically puts an enormous burden on SFOR because SFOR then would have to take up the slack of what we have been doing. I also think it would undermine a highly successful UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] program on refugee return, because I think we all know that what a refugee asks for is security," Klein said.

Michael Doyle, senior adviser at the Sarajevo office of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank, said Bosnia would clearly suffer in the event of a premature withdrawal of the approximately 1,600 UN police currently stationed there. "The Bosnian police are still under enormous political influence. They remain unwilling to protect members of other minority groups, groups that are not in the majority in the area where the police are functioning. They remain heavily corrupt in many areas and the UN has successfully begun a reform of the police so they eventually will be capable of taking over the security of the country when the NATO forces leave," Doyle said.

Doyle noted the EU is due to take over policing and police-training responsibilities in Bosnia from the UN next January, but that a serious gap would result if the UN police are withdrawn early. "In my opinion, that gap of six months would be catastrophic in terms of setting back police reform because there are such political, corrupt, and prejudicial interests which are entrenched in the police's parallel structures of authority and command, which are only now being dismantled through the constant intervention of the UN," Doyle said.

Similarly, Bosnian government spokesman Amer Kapetanovic said Bosnia has "neither financial nor human resources to plug the gap."

Beriz Belkic, who currently holds Bosnia's rotating presidency, said the transition of the international policing mission from the UN to the EU will result in additional costs for the country. But he is quick to downplay the potential damage to Bosnia caused by the UN cutback. "Our initial assessment is that the situation is not so dramatic. Some difficulties may result from this, but the situation is not catastrophic in terms of security and reforming the police," Belkic said.

In Brussels today, EU spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said there may be efforts to move forward the start-up of the EU police mission. But he warned that to advance this by half a year would be logistically quite difficult.

UNMIBH mission chief Klein is also concerned about what a UN withdrawal would say about the commitment of the international community to Bosnia-Herzegovina and to the entire Dayton peace process. He said he is also worried about the impact the step would have on the rest of the region. "What does it say to Croatia and Yugoslavia? What does it say to the hard-liners, to the recidivists, to criminals in the region when you take out the whole police monitoring function?" Klein said.

The first likely impact would be in Kosovo, an international protectorate administered by the UN. However, Kosovar leaders today were reticent, since the UN mandate in the province is not due for renewal this year. And ICG's Doyle noted that international pressure on Serbia and Montenegro to transfer indicted suspects to The Hague war crimes tribunal is likely to lose some credibility in the wake of the U.S. refusal to be subject to the new International Criminal Court.