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Bosnian unity

August 27, 2010

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed to Bosnian leaders that internal unity was the only way for them to forge closer ties with the EU. Despite its central government, the country remains deeply divided.

Guido Westerwelle, left, and Bosnian counterpart Sven Alkalaj
Westerwelle, left, met counterpart Sven AlkalajImage: AP

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Friday that Bosnia-Herzegovina only had a future within the EU if it first resolved its internal divisions.

On the third and final day of his tour of the former Yugoslavia, Westerwelle said that the state - divided between the Muslim-Croat federation and the mainly Serb Republika Srpska - would only progress to EU member status as a united country.

"Bosnia-Herzegovina clearly has a future in Europe but the road to Europe is only through internal unity, through internal unification," Westerwelle told a news conference in Sarajevo after talks with Bosnian counterpart Sven Alkalaj. "Bosnia-Herzegovina only has one European future, not several."

A map of Bosnia
Bosnia remains divided, years after the warImage: DW

Since the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, which ended the country's three-year civil war, the two entities have had their own administrations linked by a weak central government. Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said this week that he believed the Bosnian Serbs would eventually secede.

Westerwelle warned against such a move, saying that the Balkan country should press ahead with political and economic reforms after elections on October 3.

More power for center

The German foreign minister said it was important to give more power to its central government, limiting the power of individual groups to derail progress.

"I want to stress clearly that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina must not be questioned," Westerwelle said. "Constitutional reform should allow for limiting ethnic groups in their potential to prevent state-level decision making. Federalism has to be more functional."

Later on Friday, Westerwelle was due to visit Kosovo on the last leg of his three-day tour of the Balkans. The main topic on the agenda was to be the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. Serbia refuses to recognize the independence of its former province, unlike most other European countries.

Westerwelle discussed the matter with Serbian leaders during his visit to Belgrade on Thursday. He stressed that a dialogue with Kosovo is one of the prerequisites for Serbia becoming a member of the European Union.

Kosovo itself is seen as being long way from European Union membership. Among its problems is continuing ethnic tensions.

No end in sight for NATO deployment

Two years after Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, around 10,000 NATO peacekeepers remain in the former Serbian province. Germany provides the peacekeeping force's largest contingent with 1,400 troops in Kosovo. On Friday, Westerwelle is to visit the Gracanica monastery near Pristina, where German troops are at work.

Guido Westerwelle in Belgrade
Westerwelle met with Serbian leaders in BelgradeImage: AP

Ahead of Westerwelle's visit, the commander of the peacekeeping mission known as KFOR, German Lieutenant General Markus Bentler, spoke about the role of his soldiers.

"People all know how important these religious and cultural heritage sites are," Bentler said. "We are the ones who've protected them for 11 years."

Gracanica is one of the areas where NATO troops are gradually handing over control to Kosovar police. Bentler said although an end to the NATO deployment in Kosovo is not yet in sight, the transfer of responsibility is an important process.

"It's a sign that institutions in Kosovo are mature enough and that the Kosovar police is doing good professional work," he said.

NATO forces have been in Kosovo since a 1999 NATO bombing campaign forced Yugoslav forces to withdraw from the territory, ending a bloody inter-ethnic conflict. The population of Kosovo is 90 percent Albanian. The territory, which Belgrade still regards as a Serbian province, declared independence in early 2008.

Author: Joanna Impey/Richard Connor (dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Sean Sinico