The main representative of the international community in Bosnia warned that the country is in imminent danger of disintegration and that there is a “very real” prospect of a return to conflict.
In a report to the UN seen by The Guardian, Christian Schmidt, the high representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that if Serbian separatists carry out their threat to recreate their own army, dividing the national armed forces into two, more international peacekeepers they were to be sent back to stop the slide into a new war.
International peacekeeping duties in Bosnia are currently the task of a residual EU (Eufor) force of 700. NATO maintains a formal foothold with a headquarters in Sarajevo. The one-year mandate for the two will be renewed this week at the UN security council, but Russia has threatened to block a resolution unless all references to the high representative are removed, which could undermine Schmidt’s authority as supervisor. of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.
In his first report since taking office in August, Schmidt, a former German government minister, warned that Bosnia faced “the greatest existential threat of the postwar period.”
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik is threatening to withdraw of state institutions, including the national army, built with international help over the last quarter century, and rebuilding a Serbian force. On October 14, Dodik said that he would force the Bosnian army to withdraw from the Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb half) by surrounding its barracks and that if the West tried to intervene militarily, it had “friends” who had promised to support the Serbian Cause, a alleged reference to Serbia and Russia.
Bosnian Serb police carried out “Counter-terrorism” exercises last month on Mount Jahorina, from where Serbian forces shelled Sarajevo during a 1992-1995 siege.
“This amounts to secession without proclaiming it,” Schmidt wrote in a report delivered to UN Secretary General António Guterres on Friday. He said that Dodik’s actions “endanger not only the peace and stability of the country and the region, but if he does not receive a response from the international community, they could lead to the ruin of the [Dayton peace] agreement itself “.
The high representative said that clashes were possible between the Bosnian national law enforcement agencies and the Bosnian Serb police.
“Should the armed force of Bosnia and Herzegovina [Bosnia and Herzegovina] splitting into two or more armies, the level of international military presence would require reassessment, ”warned Schmidt.
“The lack of response to the current situation would endanger the [Dayton agreement]while instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina would have broader regional implications, ”he said. “The prospects for further division and conflict are very real.”
Schmidt’s warnings were delivered as the UN security council was preparing its annual resolution renewing the peacekeeping mandate for Eufor and NATO headquarters, with a vote on Wednesday. Moscow threatens to block the resolution unless all references to the high representative are removed.
The Kremlin has opposed Schmidt’s appointment by a Peace Implications Council, an ad hoc multinational body created to implement the Dayton peace accord, and refuses to recognize his authority.
“I suspect that what Russia really wants is to undermine the authority of the high representative’s office by preventing it from reporting to the council,” said a diplomat close to the discussions.
Kurt Bassuener, Co-Founder and Senior Associate of the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin-based think tank, said: “It appears that the Americans, the British and the French have effectively agreed to remove references to the High Representative that were repetitive text, language of standard emission in all previous resolutions ”. He added: “And while legally that does not undermine the high representative, politically sure it does.”
Even if Eufor’s mandate is renewed, there is little appetite in the EU to bolster the small force that remains in Bosnia. Some member states, particularly Hungary, support Dodik.
“I think he’s willing to bet on the possibility that, unlikely as it may be, he can get away with essentially creating new facts on the ground quickly and relying on the idea that the confusion and delay will affect both Sarajevo and the international community. and ultimately there would be no significant international consequences, ”said Jasmin Mujanović, a Bosnian political scientist.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar told Congress last week that the United States is working with the EU to “make sure there are consequences for any illegal or destabilizing action” in Bosnia. But it is unclear whether the Biden administration would support a return to NATO peacekeeping.
Alida Vračić, director of Populari, a Bosnian-based think tank, said the perpetual and growing sense of crisis allows the country’s leaders to disguise their failure in government.
“Dodik has gone mad, but collectively the politicians hope to score points in this crisis and the citizens are the only losers as expected,” Vračić said.
“This discussion is useful as it derails all significant discussions such as the fact that Sarajevo is drowning in smog, which [the regional governments] money embezzled in the Covid-19 crisis, that the death toll in Sarajevo is worse than during the war, the fact that half the country lives in poverty, that we have completed exactly zero reforms, that no laws have been discussed in parliament for months. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism