Bosniak, Croat leaders call drills ‘a clear provocation’, but Serb officials say it is not related to political crisis.
The European Union’s top military official has voiced support for the unified Bosnian armed forces on Thursday, after Serb leader Milorad Dodik had threatened to pull the Serb component out of the forces and form an exclusively Serb army within Bosnia.
The formation of the country’s joint armed forces (OSBiH), incorporating Serb, Croat and Bosniak components that fought each other in a 1990s war, has been praised as the greatest achievement since the conflict, in which about 100,000 died.
The 1995 Dayton peace accords split Bosnia along ethnic lines into two highly autonomous regions, the Serb-run Republika Srpska and the Federation shared by Croats and Bosniaks, linked via a weak central government that has been strengthened during the years in order for the state to be functional.
But Dodik, a secessionist Serb leader supported by Russia and dissatisfied by the rulings of international peace envoys and the constitutional court, has made it clear he wants to pull out of state institutions including the armed forces.
Claudio Graziano, the chairman of the EU Military Committee, said his visit aimed to show the great importance that the 27-member bloc attaches to the unity of Bosnia.
“I bring a message from all the 27 that there is support for the armed forces,” Graziano told a news conference on Thursday.
Senad Masovic, the head of the OSBiH joint headquarters, said the armed forces are the only legal and legitimate military force in the whole territory of Bosnia, under the defence law passed by the national parliament.
“Anything else will be regarded as a paramilitary organisation,” Masovic said.
Bosnia’s international peace envoy Christian Schmidt, addressing the parliament with regards to the continuing political crisis caused by the Serb blockade of state institutions, said it was “unacceptable to undo achievements of the past 26 years”.
Any unilateral undoing of state institutions would be a “very serious setback” for Bosnia, Schmidt said.
However, later on Thursday, Dodik confirmed at a news conference that the governing SNSD party in Republika Srpska had adopted a conclusion on initiating the procedure for forming a Bosnian Serb army, Bosnian news website Istraga reported.
The move is a violation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which also serves as the country’s constitution.
Emir Suljagic, director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center commented on Twitter that “Dodik is moving towards re-establishment of the Bosnian Serb Army, the institution found by International Court of Justice in 2007 to be responsible for genocide.
“This is now a security crisis of the first order. Peace in Bosnia is at stake. Time for talk is over.”
This is an existential threat. Bosniaks and other Bosnian victims of the BSA from the nineties can not possibly be asked to coexist, let alone coexist peacefully, with an institution dedicated solely to and with a bloody record of their physical destruction. https://t.co/t7BpACrsBm
— Emir Suljagić (@suljagicemir1) October 28, 2021