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Outgoing Envoy Allows That Bosnia's International Backers Maybe 'Changed Gears Too Quickly'

Valentin Inzko has occupied the post for 12 years. (file photo)
Valentin Inzko has occupied the post for 12 years. (file photo)

The outgoing European Union high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina has expressed regret that the international community "changed gears too quickly" in that Balkan state but expressed hope that a new German-led diplomatic offensive could soon help draw attention to Bosnia's plight.

Valentin Inzko announced his resignation on May 27 and is expected to be followed in the job by Germany's Christian Schmidt from August 1.

"Perhaps the international community made a mistake when it changed gears too quickly from what we had -- a robust, strong, international presence -- to domestic responsibility, domestic solutions," Inzko told RFE/RL's Balkan Service in an exclusive interview.

Bosnia, which comprises a Bosniak and Croat federation and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, is still governed under the 25-year-old Dayton peace agreements that helped cease ethnically fueled violence following the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The country faces an array of problems that arise from parallel structures of regional and executive power, as well as a major drive for independence by the leader of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik.

Inzko has served as the implementer of civilian safeguards set out in the cease-fire in Bosnia for 12 years.

He said he had hoped on his arrival that the "energy that ruled here for the first 10 or 12 years would be utilized."

"Of course, I expected faster progress," Inzko said.

Inzko came into the high-representative post with a mandate to wrap up its operations.

But lingering ethnic resentments including many built into its governance, centrifugal forces sometimes encouraged by neighboring states, and corruption and political paralysis have badly hampered the running of the country.

Inzko has publicly challenged a push in some quarters to shut down the Office of the High Representative (OHR) "as soon as possible."

Inzko told RFE/RL that "if a shutdown were good, I'd shut down the OHR tomorrow," but unfortunately "the international community, especially I personally, have seen it get worse and worse every year."

He cited Dodik's push for a referendum on Republika Srpska's possible secession from Bosnia.

"Mr. Dodik probably doesn't want a state," Inzko said, adding a list of complaints the Bosnian Serb leader has directed at the judiciary and the European security mission in Bosnia, EUFOR.

"He doesn't want positive things and he wants everything to be according to his taste and preference. It cannot [be], because there are international laws and conventions and Mr. Dodik must abide by them."

Inzko cited progress since the early years after the Dayton agreements, when Bosnia had no border force, no legitimate currency of its own, "nine ministries instead of three" to represent rival institutions, three flags, three anthems, and other issues.

He said the international community was present at the time "in a very robust way" that has since flagged.

"That phase needs to be refreshed, so that now this phase of Mr. Schmidt's is...a mix of the first and second phases," Inzko said.

"There will absolutely be a [diplomatic] offensive," Inzko predicted. "I think the offensive is already under way."

He cited Schmidt's talks with senior U.S., German, and EU officials, as well as conversations with regional leaders.

"[German Chancellor] Angela Merkel herself said that Bosnia-Herzegovina will now be more on the agenda at a higher level, to return [Bosnia] to the agenda," Inzko said.

But, he said, "there are conflicts that are much bigger, and some are older, but they are all bigger than Bosnia-Herzegovina" and "when people wake up in the morning in Washington or Berlin, Bosnia-Herzegovina is not in the foreground for them."

"This is why we much be grateful to Germany, Mr. Schmidt, for returning Bosnia-Herzegovina to the international agenda," Inzko said.

Bosnia is populated by about 3.8 million people -- about half of them Bosniaks, around 30 percent Serbs, and around 15 percent Croats.

Inzko said ongoing forces tugging at Bosnia's unity and disputes over certain sides' choices to elevate war criminals to hero status were evidence that "there are still people living in the past, who glorify the wrong people."

Based on an interview by Dzenana Halimovic

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