Biden warns Bosnia to change or face war threat

At the start of a three-day Balkans tour, US Vice President Joe Biden warned Bosnian politicians they faced a choice between EU and NATO integration or a return to conflict unless they dropped nationalist rhetoric.


AFP - US Vice President Joe Biden warned Bosnian politicians Tuesday they faced a stark choice between EU and NATO integration or a return to bloody conflict unless they dropped nationalist rhetoric.

In Sarajevo as the highest-level US official to visit Bosnia since President Bill Clinton in 1999, Biden issued a stern warning to parliamentarians representing the country's Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

"This parliament has the opportunity to grasp the future of integration," Biden said, adding the choice was one of "falling back" into the "savagery" and "carnage" of past conflicts or joining Euro-Atlantic institutions.

"Failure to do so will ensure you remain among the poorest countries in Europe. At worst, you'll descend into ethnic chaos that defined your country for the better part of a decade."

In a speech to Bosnia's ethnically mixed parliament, Biden pressed local leaders to agree on constitutional reforms that would bring progress and prosperity through Euro-Atlantic integration.

"The door is open for the countries of this region for the first time in history to be an integral part of a free Europe. The US will help you walk through that door," Biden told the deputies.

Bosnia was divided into two semi-autonomous entities -- the Serbs' Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation -- under the Dayton peace accords that ended its 1992-1995 war.

The two halves of the former Yugoslav republic are linked by central institutions that are powerless to push through reforms required of the country in its bid to join the 27-nation EU bloc.

The Bosnian war claimed at least 100,000 lives, forced more than two million people to flee their homes as refugees and was marred by the Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

"My country is worried... about the direction your country, your future, the future of your children is taking," Biden told the Bosnian parliamentarians.

"For three years we have seen a sharp and dangerous rise in nationalist rhetoric... the very language that destroys states.

"The results are deepening distrust among communities and deadlock on reforms... This must stop! This must stop!" he stressed.

"The only real path is to join Europe as Bosnia-Hercegovina. Right now you are off that path. To get back to that path, you must work together across ethnic and party lines so that your country functions like a real country."

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

But Biden called on such leaders to put their differences behind them and to take advantage of the new administration in Washington.

"The Obama-Biden administration will sustain and re-energise its commitment to Europe. We are back, we will stay," Biden told the Bosnian parliament, referring to US policy toward both Western Europe and the Balkans.

Biden arrived in Bosnia on Tuesday at the start of a three-day Balkans tour to show US engagement in a region still wracked by the tensions that triggered Yugoslavia's bloody break-up almost two decades ago.

Coming only four months after Barack Obama was sworn in as US president, Biden's three-day trip will also take in Serbia and Kosovo.

It follows the adoption in the US House of Representatives last week of a resolution calling for urgent constitutional reforms in Bosnia and the appointment of a US special envoy to the Balkans.

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