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EU Urges Bosnia To Publish Census Figures To Gain Membership

The European Union is urging Bosnia to publish the results of a disputed national census, stressing that it is needed to move towards EU integration.

Conducted in October 2013, the census has been the subject of an interethnic dispute in a country divided along ethnic lines between the Serb Republic and Muslim-Croat Federation.

"A further delay of publishing information would seriously harm the quality of the data, and have an impact on their relevance," Pieter Everaers, a top official of the EU's statistics office Eurostat, said on May 26.

The EU wants the most important data published by July 1, the date set by the Bosnian law governing the census, otherwise it will no longer will be valid, he said.

The only figure that has been published so far -- the population total of 3.8 million Bosnians -- was published in November 2013, but even that has been questioned.

Serb and Muslim representatives in the national statistics bureau have failed to agree on how to count non-resident citizens, a key issue that influences the population count in their communities.

Bosnian Serbs object to including people who fled the country during the 1992-1995 war.

They say residence should be determined by place of work or education, and point out that many Bosniak and Croat refugees who returned to their homes after the 1992-95 war no longer live there all the time.

But the Bosniak-Croat Federation says the Serbs' suggested methodology would erase more than 400,000 residents from its population rolls.

After months of negotiations, the statistics agency last week adopted a methodology in line with EU standards -- without agreement from the Serbs.

"It is very important for us to know how many people live in this country, where they live, what they are doing, their age, family status; we are less concerned with what ethnicity or religion they may have," said Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, head of the EU delegation in Bosnia.

Wigemark told Reuters that failure to publish the results would "pose a real risk" to Bosnia's integration with the EU. Many EU member states would be concerned if Bosnia could not agree on releasing such basic information, he said.

But Bosnian Serb leaders have already warned they will not recognize results based on the methodology that has been adopted.

Bosnia's last census was conducted in 1991, a year before the beginning of the war that claimed 100,000 lives and left more than half of the country's pre-war population of 4.4 million homeless.

An estimated 40 percent of Bosnians are Muslims and 30 percent are Christian Orthodox Serbs, while some 10 percent are Christian Catholic Croats.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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