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Europe

EU to Strengthen Engagement in Bosnia

As EU defense ministers review the fate of Europe's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, officials say the country can count on strengthened engagement as it pursues EU-backed reforms.

The European Union police officer Maria Donk from Netherlands is carrying an EU flag during a ceremony in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo

The EU replaced the UN as the peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 2003

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and expansion commissioner Olli Rehn said the Office of the High Representative -- the chief civilian peace implementation agency -- should be closed down by the end of next year. But according to a report made available to the Associated Press, they said it would be replaced by a strengthened EU presence that would monitor and encourage reforms in Bosnia.

EU defense ministers reviewed the fate of the EU's military mission in Bosnia -- EUFOR -- on Monday, though they were expected to maintain the force until there is a return to political stability.

The European Union launched its Althea peacekeeping mission in Bosnia with a military force of 7,000 in 2004 to oversee the Dayton accords that ended the 1992-1995 war.

It currently has 2,125 troops from 26 countries, of which 21 are members of the European bloc. Spain provides the largest contingent with 376 soldiers, followed by Italy's 248, Turkey's 242 and Poland's 204.

The European Union had been hoping to wind down its Bosnia military mission, but simmering political instability in the Balkan country has forced it to reconsider, a decision that's been welcomed by some Bosnian leaders.

"The withdrawal of EUFOR represents a danger... I am afraid that it is too risky. It could be very dangerous for peace," Bosnian Muslim leader Sulejman Tihic told reporters.

A German soldier attaches a EUFOR sign to a vehicle

EUFOR is still needed to stablize Bosnia, according to some

Bosnia's political scene has been hostile since 2006 elections propelled into office two key figures -- Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim member of the country's tripartite presidency, and Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.

Dodik has warned that the Serbs' Republika Srpska (RS), which along with the Muslim-Croat Federation makes up post-war Bosnia, could secede. Meanwhile, Silajdzic has called for RS to be abolished.

New conflict "unlikely" say analysts

Political analyst Milos Solaja estimated it would be "very difficult" for a new war to break out in Bosnia. "Today there is neither the will nor enough arms to have a war in the country... I believe that political leaders know that it would not contribute to anyone," he told reporters.

But he warned of a repeat of the 1990s, when decisive international intervention was awaited for three and a half years to end the war which claimed some 100,000 lives.

A German NATO-led soldier guards the entrance to a German peacekeepers camp in the Bosnian Serb village of Celebici

Germany contributes to the NATO Rapid Reaction Force

"NATO could react with its rapid reaction force," launched in 2003, which allows the alliance to speedily deploy up to 25,000 troops anywhere, Solaja said.

Military analyst Antonio Prlenda said the "withdrawal of EUFOR would be justified by an operational point of view but, politically, it could turn out to be an error."

Dodik said Bosnia was "stable" and that the war "belongs irrevocably to the past."

"The RS government has nothing against maintaining the military presence in Bosnia," he told reporters, adding, however, that it was time to remove the office of the international envoy in Bosnia. "With the OHR, Bosnia is not a sovereign country," he said.

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