Clinton urges Bosnia to end ethnic divide

Clinton warned Bosnia that it risks seeing its hopes of joining the EU & NATO dashed unless it can start bridging its deep political and ethnic divide.

Sarajevo: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday warned Bosnia that it risks seeing its hopes of joining the EU and NATO dashed unless it can start bridging its deep political and ethnic divide.

"That state (Bosnia) will need to deliver more for its citizens, by passing reforms that would improve key services, attract more foreign investment, and make the government more functional and accountable," Clinton said.

These changes are not only needed for their own sake but are also essential for Bosnia`s ambitions to join the European Union and NATO, she added. Your neighbours have taken strides in that direction (...) Bosnia and Herzegovina must join them or risk being left behind," she warned.

Clinton started her two-day tour of the Balkans in Bosnia where she will meet a host of different politicians and is expected to push them to work towards a more centralised state a week after elections which failed to heal the country`s ethnic divide. "Hatreds have eased, but nationalism persists. Meanwhile the promise of greater stability and pportunity --represented by integration into Europe-- remains out of reach," Clinton told students in Sarajevo`s national theatre.

In the elections pro-reform moderate political parties gained ground in the Muslim-Croat part of the country, but the nationalist Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) won comfortably in the Serb entity known as the Republika Srpska. It is almost 15 years since the US-brokered Dayton peace accords ended the bloody 1992-95 inter-ethnic war in Bosnia. Since that time the country has made only tiny steps towards healing the deeply entrenched divide between the former enemies, mostly Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs, and creating a more centralised state

Post-war Bosnia remains divided into the semi-autonomous Muslim Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serbs` Republika Srpska. Clinton met with the members of the tripartite presidency earlier Tuesday and will go on to meet other political leaders later.

She will also meet Milorad Dodik, the newly elected president of the Republika Srpska, who just last week rejected calls by the international community for improved relations within Bosnia.

In the afternoon Clinton will travel to Belgrade where she will meet with Serbian President Boris Tadic to discuss the start of the EU-sponsored talks between Serbia and breakaway Kosovo.

In the students` meeting Clinton said her message for Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo was one and the same.

"The message is that now is the time to build upon the gains made in recent years, and to strengthen democratic institutions, deepen peace between neighbours, and create the conditions for long-term political, economic, and social progress," she said.

"For Serbia and Kosovo, that means, among other things, making their upcoming dialogue a success by engaging sincerely and creatively to resolve their differences once and for all."

While in Belgrade Clinton is expected also to stress the importance of the arrest of wartime Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic wanted on genocide charges and widely believed to be hiding in Serbia. She could also try to enlist Tadic, who supported Dodik`s presidential campaign in the Republika Srpska, to pressure the hardline Bosnian Serb leader to accept reforms in Bosnia.

On Wednesday Clinton will travel on to Kosovo: in the capital Pristina, she will meet with the provisional leaders of a country which was shaken by the surprise resignation of President Fatmir Sejdiu for internal political reasons. The United States is among 70 states to have recognised Kosovo.

Bureau Report

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