Austrian diplomat appointed as Bosnia peace envoy

SARAJEVO – Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko was named as Bosnia’s new peace envoy on Friday, with the task of managing tensions between Muslims, Croats and Serbs and speeding up the country’s integration into Europe.

The Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the international body that overseas Bosnia’s peace process, said Inzko would take up his duties as High Representative on March 26.

The post was created after the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, making the country a de facto international protectorate. Its powers were expanded later, enabling the envoy to impose laws and sack elected officials if they were seen as obstructing the peace.

PIC approval of Inzko had been held up for weeks by the United States, reportedly because it wanted to be sure he was tough enough to take hard decisions when dealing with Bosnia’s divided ethnic leaders.

In Washington, the State Department said that it welcomed Inzko’s appointment.

“Ambassador Inzko has extensive experience in the region and is well qualified to address the outstanding challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He will have our full support,” spokesman Gordon Duguid said in an email statement.

The international community has planned to close down the office of the High Representative (OHR) since 2006. But increased rivalry between Bosnia’s two ethnically based regions — the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic — has put that on hold.

While Bosnian Muslim leaders have called for the abolition of the regions and a more centralised state, the Bosnian Serbs have threatened to hold a referendum on secession, leaving the country in political deadlock.

“Inzko will not significantly change the current relation of Serb, Croat and Muslim elites towards the key issue of the constitutional reform,” said political analyst Gojko Beric.

“Even the stronger engagement of the U.S. administration will not resolve local problems burdened with ethnic and religious tensions and hatred.”


The PIC board is to discuss shutting down the OHR when it meets on March 26. Analysts say it is unlikely to do so because of the unstable situation and the risk of further delaying reforms needed for Bosnia to join the European Union.

“I don’t think it’s (PIC) going to determine anything,” said Kurt Bassuener, the senior associate in the Democratisation Policy Council think-tank. “Everybody is expecting them to basically welcome Inzko and talk about the continued problems.”

The International Crisis Group warned against closing the OHR, saying Bosnia was not ready to function on its own.

“Tensions are high, and national leaders are challenging the Dayton settlement more openly than ever before,” it said.

Inzko replaces Miroslav Lajcak, who left the job last month to become Slovakia’s Foreign Minister. He has already been named to the parallel position of EU special representative, and served as the first Austrian ambassador in Bosnia after the war.

A fluent speaker of Bosnian and well versed in the complex politics of the Balkans, Inzko is the second Austrian to take up the job of High Representative after Wolfgang Petritsch, who served in that capacity from 1999-2002.

“He does have a reputation for at least knowing the country, which is a definite plus, but it is going to be a very hard job,” Bassuener told Reuters.

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