Bosnia clears police reform crucial to EU ties

Other News Materials 11 April 2008 10:19 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - Bosnia's bickering politicians have agreed on new police laws designed to bring the country closer to the European Union, but rival Serb and Muslim-Croat police forces were not disbanded.

After more than four years of discussion, the compromise pushed through by Bosnia's international administrator delayed the question of how to deal with the splintered security forces until after a constitutional reform, currently a distant prospect.

Lower-house lawmakers from the main Muslim and Serb parties approved the laws late Thursday. The reform also requires the upper house's approval, usually a formality.

The international administrator, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, warned local politicians for months that only police reform would clear the way for a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, a first step toward possible membership.

He has urged Bosnian leaders in blunt language to set aside differences and take responsibility for their country and people's economic welfare.

But Bosnian Serbs, who emerged from the country's 1992-95 ethnic war with broad separate powers, said the police reform allows them to maintain their own security apparatus.

"It is clear that the interior ministry of the Serb Republic and the police of Serb Republic would continue to exist in the same capacity," Slavko Jovicic, a lawmaker for the main Bosnian Serb party in the Sarajevo parliament, said before the vote.

Haris Silajdzic, leader of the largest Muslim party and current head of Bosnia's three-member presidency, wants to centralize law enforcement power in Sarajevo.

On paper, the new laws increase the Sarajevo central government's police powers. But the final police structure would be worked out within a year of the adoption of a new Bosnian constitution, Jovicic said.

Some international experts and diplomats view the police reform as a sideshow that has captivated EU officials but does virtually nothing to address Bosnia's long-standing divisions and weak central government.

Lajcak worked with Bosnia's top politicians for much of Thursday to overcome last-minute wrangling over the police reforms as parliament met in Sarajevo.

The United States, which brokered the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war, had also called for compromise.

Many Bosnians are disillusioned about the future of their largely divided country, where Slavic Muslims make up 48 per cent of the population, Serbs 34 per cent and Croats 15 per cent.