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Europe

Bosnians Move Closer to EU After Police Reform

EU officials are expected to establish closer ties with Bosnia after the multi-ethnic Balkan state agreed to reform the divided police forces. But critics of the deal say that the change is largely cosmetic.

Bosnian and EU flags next to each other

The reforms have brough Bosnia one step closer to the EU

Ending years of dispute among the country's Croat, predominantly Muslim Bosniak and Serb leaders, Bosnian lawmakers on Wednesday, April 16, approved reform bills geared at merging the police forces that have been separated along ethnic lines so far.

EU Enlargement officer Olli Rehn welcomed the move and said that the way had been paved to sign a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which is the first step towards eventual EU membership.

The SAA "will not only bring practical benefits in trade and thus for the economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is also the gateway towards candidate country status for EU accession," Rehn said, according to AFP news service.

While EU foreign ministers could sign the agreement as early as their next meeting on April 29, they're more likely to do so in May or June.

Serbian resistance

Since the 1992-1995 war, Bosnia has consisted of two autonomous areas: the Serb Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. The Bosnian Serbs had resisted any proposals to merge the separate police forces, but now agreed on a watered-down compromise.

The reform bills call for the creation of seven central-government bodies to coordinate the country's police forces within a year after constitutional reform -- which is not expected in the near future.

EU officials, who had pushed for and end to separation of the forces along ethnic lines, have said that they'd be willing to accept the Bosnian agreement as long as it makes sure that ethnic bias is no longer an issue within the force.

Critics of the reform bill said that Serbs had basically managed to block any real change.

"The adopted law will not change the existing situation," said Alma Colo of the Bosniak nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA), according to DPA news service.

The lesser evil

Others, however, said that the deal had to be seen in terms of Bosnia's future within the EU.

"It's difficult to say if these laws are good, because nothing is absolutely good," Branko Zrno, a Croat parliamentarian, told reporters, according to Reuters news service. "It is true they do not resolve all the issues, but we have agreed on them in the interest of the (SAA) signature."

Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo are the only states of the former Yugoslavia that still have not singed SAAs. Relations between Serbia and the EU soured after several members, including Germany, recognized Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in February.

Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav state that is already an EU member. It currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency. Croatia is expected to become a member in 2009 or 2010.

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