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Secret meeting

October 9, 2009

High-ranking US and EU officials met with feuding Bosnian leaders behind closed doors Friday to try to end the political paralysis of the volatile country. The western leaders presented a difficult compromise plan.

Bosnian security
The meeting was held behind tight security in BosniaImage: DW / Samir Huseinovic

The meeting at the EU base near the Sarajevo airport was sealed off to the public and even the leaders of Bosnia's Muslim, Serb and Croat factions were not introduced to the plan before the informal start of the talks over dinner on Thursday evening.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who was a United Nations envoy to the Balkans from 1999 to 2001, chaired the session, with US Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in attendance, along with seven of the most influential Bosnian political leaders.

The plan offers "bitter pills" to each of the ethnic groups, according to media reports, aiming to strengthen central Bosnian institutions and to wrest power from the nearly-sovereign entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina of Muslims and Croats and the Serb Republic.

The new central authorities are to be given more authority and the entities should be given a more limited power of veto. The present three-member collective presidency should be replaced by a single president, with two vice-presidents, sources said.

Carl Bildt
Representing the EU, Sweden's Carl Bildt chaired the meetingImage: AP

In return for this compromise, the international community has offered to withdraw its high representative in Sarajevo, who has co-governed Bosnia with elected authorities since 1995, keeping a controversial right to veto laws and sack officials.

A long road to EU membership

An agreement could help Bosnia regain the impetus for the drive to EU membership, Rehn was quoted as saying earlier. The EU has feared that Bosnia's political paralysis could leave the country lagging behind its neighbors, who are queuing up to join the bloc.

Western officials in Sarajevo were not hopeful for a quick agreement. Bosnia is home to roughly 4 million people, half of them Muslims, one-third Serbs and 15 percent Croats. A war devastated the country between 1992 and 1995, and the country is still wracked with internal conflict and corruption. A massive, multi-billion-dollar international effort in peacekeeping, governing and reconstruction has done little to alleviate the conditions.

Editor: Nancy Isenson