UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council agreed unanimously Wednesday to extend the mandate of the European Union military force in Bosnia, voting after Russia blocked members from hearing a warning from the top international official in Bosnia that the war-scarred Balkan nation faces an “existential threat” from separatist actions by Bosnia Serbs.
Russia, a close ally of the Bosnian Serbs, has repeatedly tried to end the role of Bosnia’s high representative, currently Christian Schmidt, and it succeeded in preventing him from delivering his latest report to the council saying Bosnia and Herzegovina could face renewed division and conflict if the international community doesn’t curb Bosnian Serbs.
But U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent Schmidt’s report to the 15 council members, and after the vote on the EU force his warnings were raised by the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia and other council nations that gave strong backing to the importance of maintaining the high representative..
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that as far as Moscow is concerned the high representative was appointed “in violation of international law" and “the post remains vacant.” He strongly objected to the report from what he called “a private person” being circulated to council members, saying it is “an extreme biased and anti-Serb document the likes of which we haven't seen for a long time."
“It is aimed at resolving just one goal — to destroy any glimmers of understanding, peace and cooperation among the peoples living in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Nebenzia said, accusing Western nations on the council of trying to dictate how Bosnians build and govern their country.
The 1992-95 Bosnian war pitted the country's ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats against each other and ended with the U.S.-sponsored Dayton peace agreement that created two regions, the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. The two regions were given wide autonomy, but kept some joint institutions, including an army, top judiciary and tax administration and a presidency that rotates among the three ethnic groups.
After the war, more than 60,000 troops deployed throughout the country to secure the peace. In 2004 the peacekeeping mandate was handed over to the EU and the French-drafted resolution adopted Wednesday extends the mandate of the now 600-strong force for 12 months.
Ambassadors of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body guiding Bosnia’s peace process, formally appointed Schmidt as the next high representative on May 27. U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the secretary general “certainly believes this is an important role” and "we’ve had a very productive relationship with the Office of the High Representative."
In his report, Schmidt wrote that prospects of further division and conflict in Bosnia “are very real” if Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik carries through his threat to withdraw Serb troops from the Bosnian army and create a separate Serb force, which would “ultimately undermine the state’s ability to function and carry out its constitutional responsibilities.”
Schmidt, a senior German diplomat, called Dodik’s threatened actions “tantamount to secession without proclaiming it.” He said they “endanger not only the peace and stability of the country and the region, but — if unanswered by the international community — could lead to the undoing of the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the war.
Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the presidency, has for years been advocating for the separation of the Bosnian Serb mini-state and having it become part of Serbia. He recently intensified his campaign, pledging that the Bosnian Serb parliament would by the end of November declare the creation of its own army, tax authority and judiciary.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Bosnia “is facing a critical juncture in its post-war history.”
She called for an end to “the heated rhetoric’” from Dodik and agreed with Schmidt’s assessment that Dodik’s talk of Republika Srpska’s possible withdrawal from Bosnia is a “dangerous path” not only for Bosnia but for the wider western Balkan region. She said Dodik's talk of drafting a new constitution for the Bosnia Serb region “would pose a serious threat” to the Dayton peace accord.
Thomas-Greenfield also called for protection of the role of the high representative, whose office “serves as a foundation of stability for the country,” and said there is a need for “electoral and limited constitutional reform" and for stepped up efforts to combat corruption so Bosnia can “move forward on its EU path.”
France's U.N. ambassador, Nicolas De Riviere, condemned “all forms of questioning of the territorial integrity and the existence of Bosnia Herzegovina as a state," backed the high representative's role, and called on the country's political leaders to overcome their divisions and make progress toward EU membership,