March 27, 2023

U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Peace in Bosnia at risk of unraveling, warns envoy

Bosnia’s 1998 peace agreement is in danger of unraveling as the country’s Serbs and Croats continue to form their own governments, a key U.S. envoy said Thursday.

“The Dayton Agreement is at risk,” Robert Frowick, head of the State Department office monitoring Bosnia, told reporters in Washington on Thursday. The Dayton Agreement ended three years of war between Bosnia’s Croats, Muslims and Serbs that left some 100,000 people dead and displaced 2 million others from their homes.

It divided Bosnia into two separate regions with a weak central government: a Bosnian-Croatian federation for Croats and Bosnian-Serb republic for Serbs. It also created a rotating presidency and a central government with three members: one Bosnian-Croat, one Muslim and one Serb.

The Dayton agreement was supposed to help ease ethnic tensions by giving each of Bosnia’s major groups a chance to rule the country. But it has not worked, Frowick said, because the three groups continue to form their own governments in key autonomous areas such as education and police forces.

“Since Dayton, violence along ethnic lines has been negligible,” he said.”But these parallel structures are increasing the likelihood that we will see violence again.” Not only has this eroded peace in Bosnia but it also is undermining NATO’s security mission there by having an “increasingly different picture painted every of what is going on in Bosnia,” he said.

Bosnian Serbs and Croats have formed their own governments within the framework of Bosnian institutions, he said. They have created education systems in their areas and police forces, which are becoming increasingly similar to those in neighboring Serbia and Croatia.

Frowick also dismissed a recent suggestion by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik that the Bosnian Serb parliament should decide who is a citizen of Bosnia.

“The parliament cannot decide on citizenship,” Frowick said. “That’s up to each individual.”

Bosnia’s Serbs want equal rights within the country but they do not want to be part of it, he added. This has led some international officials to suggest that Bosnia be divided into three countries: one for Serbs, one for Croats and one for Muslims. But Frowick said this was not a good idea.

“Divided Bosnia is better than no Bosnia,” he said. “We don’t want to go back into that kind of full war again.”

Instead, the international community should agree to give Serbs and Croats more control over their affairs within the framework of Bosnian institutions, he said.

“There’s no question we’re going to have to engage with these guys and sit down and work out things,” Frowick said. “The parties will have to meet somewhere in between those positions.”

In addition, NATO officials now seem ready to do more for peacekeeping in Bosnia after earlier reducing their presence there as violence declined. This is likely to mean stationing some NATO troops in areas where there is still tension, he said.

But NATO troops will not be put in places where they might face gunfire, Frowick added.

“We haven’t seen anything like that,” he said. “There’s no sense of any offensive operations.”