Croats say they will begin self-government
Bosnian Croats will begin self-government on 17 March, announced the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in Jajce this week. Despite the fact that it violates the Dayton Accords and the constitutions of both the Federation and BiH, and despite the international community's recent sacking of Croat Presidency member Ante Jelavić, the party's calls for a government by Croats and for Croats continues.
"Conditions are not dramatic, and this will not be 1992," said BiH Interior Minister Muhamed Bešić in Dnevni Avaz Friday, but added that "the crisis areas are Čapljina, central Bosnia, Ljubuški, Orašje and Stolac, because individuals from Croatia are coming and lobbying for the destruction and splintering of the Federation."
Bešić's comments about these outside forces were not backed up in the paper, but HDZ nationalists in Bosnia do not need any help. Citing an unfair OSCE change to an election law making it possible for Croat parliament delegates to be elected by both Croats and Muslims, the HDZ has declared the Muslim-Croat Federation dead and has boycotted its institutions. Following the self-styled Croat National Assembly session on 3 March that announced Croat self-government in Croat areas, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch banned HDZ leader Ante Jelavić from politics, including his seat in the three-member Bosnian Presidency.
The Federation's new government is doing what it can to rein in the crisis. New FBiH Defense Minister Mijo Anić annulled his HDZ predecessor's decision to pull the Croat part of the Federation Army Thursday. Former minister Miroslav Prce had called for Croat soldiers not to serve the "illegitimate" Federation government and to remove FBiH insignia from their uniforms.
This was the most worrisome development yet. Several political parties in Bosnia said that the move was reminiscent of wartime, when Croat separatists declared their own mini-state. Their army, the HVO, was responsible for ethnically cleansing Muslims from central Bosnia.
SFOR warned Thursday that Federation soldiers needed to stay out of politics. The peacekeeping troops around Mostar, a known HDZ stronghold, are reported to have stepped up their patrols. Avaz quoted SFOR spokesperson Richard Dannat as saying that the forces support Anić.
Leaders in Croatia have made it clear that they do not support the Bosnian HDZ. During the Franjo Tuđman years, Bosnian Croats could depend on Croatian money, weapons and soldiers to support any separatist goals. But Tuđman's death in December 1999 ended the Croatian HDZ's leadership, and with it, the Croatian government's patronage of their Bosnian brethren. This is one reason for the decline of the Bosnian HDZ in the past two years. The other, a more recent development, was when the party lost control in the Federation parliament for the first time after the November 2000 elections. Croat concern about the election law is valid—Croats are outnumbered by Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia and need to be sure that they have a voice in the government—but it is widely believed that the HDZ is merely manipulating this concern to keep its officials powerful and wealthy.
Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told EU foreign affairs and security envoy Javier Solana this week that a stable BiH where all its peoples can co-exist is important to next-door Croatia. BH Press reported Friday that the Croatian Sabor would probably decide to annul its special-relations agreement with the Federation of BiH. There were also reports that leaders of BiH and Croatia had a private meeting in the border town Slavonski Brod and discussed organizing an international conference to deal with BiH's status.
Slobodna Bosna (SB) reported that Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Račan and several others gave the Bosnian officials a plan to scrap the Dayton Accords and re-organize BiH into cantons. While SB is not the most reliable source, Croatian politician Dražen Budiša did say just that last week. No one knows exactly what happened at the so-called secret meeting, or what was said.
A new report from the International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended an easy way to solve the separatist problem: simply investigate and dismantle the HDZ's source of financing. The ICG also recommended ways for the international community to bring Croats back into the fold: build trust, control Bosnia's borders to end the smuggling that has enriched HDZ leaders and take away all the HVO's weapons until they have shown that they are ready to participate in the Federation.
750 American soldiers to leave
The Bush administration is pulling 750 American peacekeepers out of Bosnia and will discuss making SFOR smaller with its NATO allies, reported BH Press. The soldiers, who are part of the 9000 American troops in the Balkans, will leave by the end of April. Bush said during the 2000 presidential campaign that he favored the end of America's engagement in the region, which made many people in Bosnia nervous and concerned the US's NATO allies. Secretary of State Colin Powell has since promised that America will continue sharing peacekeeping duties with its allies.
An anonymous US official was quoted as saying that this move does not break any promises. The US is also recalling several tanks, armored trucks and helicopters, saying that there is no longer a need for such equipment in Bosnia.
Croats protest refugee minister appointment
An association of Croats displaced from the central Bosnian town of Rama complained Thursday that former Bosnian Army General Sefer Halilović had no business taking the position of Federation refugee minister. Halilović, said the group, was responsible for ordering a massacre of Croat civilians in 1993. Other associations in Bosnia agreed.
"This man was a strange choice for one of the most sensitive Federation ministries," Exiled Croat Community president Štefo Masatović was quoted in Avaz. "That is a clear message to exiled Croats that they won't return."
RS bans cattle imports, acknowledges its financial problems
The Republika Srpska (RS) government banned all livestock and livestock products imports into the entity this week to make sure that the foot-and-mouth disease that is affecting animals in the UK and now France does not enter the entity. The Federation government made a similar move about a month ago.
Entity Prime Minister Mladen Ivanić also announced this week that the RS had a USD 160 million budget deficit in 2000, when the entity was under the leadership of former prime minister Milorad Dodik. The RS National Assembly passed financial measures Friday that include promises to meet its obligations towards budget users and to service its foreign debt.
Beth Kampschror, 16 March 2001
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