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International Council Meets In Sarajevo to Discuss Future Of OHR

The Peace Implementation Council at its June 2009 meeting
(RFE/RL) -- The 55-member international body that supervises Bosnia's peace process is gathering in Sarajevo to discuss whether to extend the mandate of its main civilian overseer there.

The meeting of the Peace Implementation Council brings together officials with differing views about the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Some of the 55 international representatives want to see the OHR closed so that Bosnian authorities can start running their own affairs without international oversight.

But others say Bosnia -- with its awkward postwar tripartite governing structure -- is not yet ready for the abolition of the international offices created 14 years ago.

Since the Dayton greements that brought an end to the Bosnian war in 1995, the country has been a fragile, multiethnic state divided into two bickering entities -- the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The Office of the High Representative was created immediately after the Dayton accords to oversee the civilian implementation of the peace agreement until the country was deemed stable, democratic, and politically capable of running its own affairs.

Transformative Or Just Transformed?

Authorities from the European Union and the United States want the OHR to remain open and possibly transformed into a special EU representative entity while work continues to centralize Bosnia's governing institutions.

The Muslim-Croat Federation favors keeping the OHR open.

But Bosnian Serb leaders, who are seen as more loyal to neighboring Serbia than Bosnia's central government in Sarajevo, want more autonomy. They have rejected the push for further consolidation.

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, has repeatedly called for the OHR's closure and has threatened to hold a referendum on seceding from Bosnia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signaled Moscow's support for the Bosnian Serb position during a visit to Sarajevo earlier this month.

"The election of Bosnia to the [UN] Security Council [in October] makes especially relevant the issue of Bosnians taking the fate of their country in their own hands, so they can finally rid themselves of outside supervision," Lavrov said.

"And in this regard, Russia, as an active member of the Peace Implementation Council, supports the rapid transformation of the Office of the High Representative to the office or the mission of a special representative of the EU."

Goal Of Self-Government

In Washington, a delegation of Republika Srpska officials also has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill recently to press their case that Bosnia is capable of self-government.

But there is a widely held, opposing view in Washington. Many U.S. lawmakers, as well as influential policy groups and nongovernmental organizations, think the United States should recommit itself to helping steer Bosnia's development toward EU and NATO integration. Without such support, Washington insiders think Bosnia could slide backward into nationalistic divisions -- and potentially, into another conflict.

Charles English, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Sarajevo on November 17 that Washington is concerned about the ongoing divisions that characterize the political situation in Bosnia. He is urging Bosnian leaders to adopt the reforms needed to meet the conditions for an application of membership in the EU and the conditions for the NATO membership action plan.

"First, the United States will accept nothing less than a peaceful, multiethnic, sovereign and unified Bosnia and Herzegovina," English said. "And second, the United States believes that the only real path to a secure and prosperous future for Bosnia and Herzegovina is European and Euro-Atlantic integration."

English claimed Bosnia-Herzegovina is not functioning properly and its citizens are suffering as a result. He has urged constitutional changes that would improve Bosnia's functionality as a state. He also has said it would help to see the OHR transformed to the level of a reinforced European Union special representative.

"If this package is adopted, it will put Bosnia and Herzegovina firmly on the path to the EU and NATO accession, and it will put you on that path now," English said. "From our perspective, this is an offer that you cannot afford to ignore; this will put you on the doorstep to Europe and put you firmly on the path to NATO."

The Peace Implementation Council decided in February of 2007 that Bosnia had progressed enough to allow the OHR to end its work within 18 months.

But in early 2008, a review of Bosnia's progress led to a reversal of that decision and the extension of the OHR's mandate until additional reform benchmarks and conditions were met.

written by RFE/RL Central Newsroom staff based on reports from RFE/RL's Balkan Service from Sarajevo and wire reports

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