- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2007

Deadlock in Bosnia

The tangled politics of Bosnia-Herzegovina are again knotted in ethnic disputes, as Serbs, Muslims and Croats wrestle over the most controversial issue blocking its advance toward membership in the European Union.

The weapons today are words, not bombs, but the passions still run hot, as a visiting Serbian official told Embassy Row yesterday.

“What should have been a technical EU consideration has become a huge political issue,” said Gordan Milosevic, special adviser to Prime Minister Milorad Dodik of Bosnia’s Serb Republic. “We are frustrated. We do not know what to do.”

At stake is the future of the Serb Republic’s police force. The dominant Muslim-Croat Federation is demanding the elimination of the country’s two separate police forces and the creation of a new national force. The European Union issued an ultimatum to both sides to reach a compromise by the end of the month or face a halt to further membership talks.

Ethnic Serbs make up 37 percent of Bosnia’s population of 4 million, while Muslims, called Bosniaks, comprise 37 percent and ethnic Croats 14 percent. Mr. Milosevic said Serbs fear they will be dominated by the other two groups, which still hold resentment over Serbian brutality during the 1992-1995 war.

“They will not go for a piece of the cake, if they feel they can have the whole cake,” Mr. Milosevic said of the Muslims and Croats.

Bakir Ajanovic, minister of science and technology who accompanied Mr. Milosevic on the Washington visit, pointed out that he himself is a Muslim in the Serb-dominated government of the Serb Republic.

“We fear we will be the victim of more centralization,” he said.

The two sides, created by the U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Accord, have already shifted considerable power to the central government, including national defense, foreign policy and taxation.

Muslim-Croat leaders have blamed Mr. Dodik for the deadlock. Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Ajanovic are meeting members of Congress to explain the Serbian position.

Zimbabwe shift?

There was an interesting, little-remarked exchange at the Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday for James McGee, President Bush’s choice as the next ambassador to Zimbabwe, our correspondentDavid R. Sands notes.

Outgoing Ambassador Christopher Dell was a caustic critic of the authoritarian regime of longtime President Robert Mugabe, who bankrupted his country and jailed his opponents. The United States and leading European countries have slapped sanctions on Mr. Mugabe and leading figures of the regime.

Mr. McGee, most recently ambassador to Madagascar, told lawmakers Mr. Dell’s confrontational stance was “absolutely necessary” to publicize the Mugabe government’s “excesses” to the world. But he also signaled that the Bush administration may be prepared to reach out to at least some in the regime before the 83-year-old president departs the scene.

“My approach,” Mr. McGee told Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, “would be somewhat different.”

While still calling the government in Harare to account, “I think that we need to develop contacts within the existing government, looking for the day that there is peaceful regime change within Zimbabwe,” he added. “I think that we need to reach out and make certain we have interlocutors, that we have people that we can deal with in a new representative government within Zimbabwe.”

Mr. Mugabe’s ruling party and the two leading opposition factions struck a surprise deal this week to hold simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections, amid speculation Mr. Mugabe will try to use the process to anoint a successor.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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