Bosnians worried about the creation of the Serbian army could provoke violence | Conflict news

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Ahmed Hrustanovic, an imam and teacher in the city of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fears for himself and his family as the country faces its worst political and security crisis from the war of the 90s.

In July 1995, Serbian forces killed the 35-year-old’s father, both grandparents, four uncles and other relatives during the genocide in Srebrenica, which had been declared a “safe zone” by the United Nations.

From 1992 to 1995, Bosnia was attacked by Serbian and Croatian forces who aimed to divide the country into a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia respectively. About 100,000 people were killed and nearly two million people fled.

The conflict ended in December 1995, with the signing of the United States-mediated Dayton Peace Agreement which established Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state composed of two entities: a Federation entity dominated by Bosniak-Croatians and an entity of the Republika Srpska run by the Serbs.

Milorad Dodik, a Serbian member of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who alternates a Bosniak, a Serb and a Croatian member every eight months, has been threatening the secession of Republika Srpska for 15 years.

But in the past month it has taken significant steps towards such a move, announcing that Republika Srpska will withdraw from major state institutions to achieve full autonomy within the country, in violation of the 1995 peace accords.

Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite presidency threatened Republika Srpska to separate and join neighboring Serbia [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

The crisis began in July when Valentin Inzko, then the high representative who oversaw the implementation of the peace agreement, banned the denial of genocide and established war crimes, as well as the glorification of war criminals.

Serbian representatives responded by boycotting the central state institutions.

The Republika Srpska, together with all of China and Russia, does not recognize the Office of the High Representative and has long called for its closure.

Last week, Dodik announced that Republika Srpska would move towards forming its own Bosnian Serb army after withdrawing from Bosnia’s joint armed forces. The announcement has alarmed many Bosniaks like Hrustanovic who fear a return to the violence of the 1990s.

“I can’t say I’m not afraid and I can’t believe that after so many years and surviving the genocide, you are still afraid for yourself, your family, your life,” Hrustanovic told Al Jazeera.

“People [in Srebrenica] they are scared. Today I met one of the Srebrenica Mothers (a group of activists representing the relatives of the victims of genocide) and she asked me: ‘My son, what’s going on? Will we have to run again? ‘”

It was the Bosnian Serb army, along with Serbian police, intelligence and security, that led the systematic violence against non-Serbs in the previous war.

The International Court of Justice in 2007 ruled that the Bosnian Serb army is responsible for the genocide in Srebrenica, located in the Republika Srpska entity near the border with Serbia.

Hrustanovic returned to Srebrenica in 2014, two years after he and his family buried the incomplete skeletal remains of his father and two of his uncles.

A father of four, Hrustanovic said he hopes his family won’t have to flee, but he doesn’t rule it out.

“The political situation has never been so bad [since the war], to the point where they are openly heading towards the formation of the Republika Srpska army that committed the genocide, “Hrustanovic said.” What a defeat of humanity this is to allow someone to form an army again that has committed a genocide”.

In Zepa, located in Republika Srpska near Srebrenica, the families of Bosnian returnees were also concerned.

“They are survivors of the genocide, mothers or elders living alone,” Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, who visited the community on Thursday, told Al Jazeera. “I was called to meet them and speak, but I have no words of consolation because I myself cannot manage what is happening in Bosnia,” Subasic said.

“This is a difficult situation. There is a lot of chatter, whispers and stories circulating, just like in the 1990s before the war broke out. Dodik is doing his job, he is not going back, but the international community that betrayed us in 1995 is trying to betray us again.

“They should have done something a long time ago … They all say: ‘We are watching, we are observing, we are following’ … but they actually divided Bosnia,” Subasic continued, adding that mothers would have to use their passports. to visit the graves of their loved ones buried in Republika Srpska if the entity is separated.

On Wednesday, current High Representative Christian Schmidt presented a report on foreign missions to the United Nations, warning that the peace agreement is in danger of crumbling and that “the prospects for further divisions and conflicts are very real” if Dodik had created an army. separate Serbian.

Dodik’s actions are “equivalent to secession without proclaiming it,” he said, adding that Bosnia faces its greatest existential threat since the end of the war if the international community does not intervene to curb secessionist threats.

For their part, the European Union and the United States have issued statements calling on “all political actors” and “all parties” to abandon divisive and secessionist rhetoric and respect state institutions, angering critics who insist on the fact. that only one party has violated the agreements.

Yet the commander of the EU peacekeeping force (EUFOR) in Bosnia Aleksander Placer She said he saw no military threat following Dodik’s moves to create a Serbian army, adding that Bosnia’s joint armed forces are not anchored in the Dayton Peace Agreement.

“The security situation in Bosnia is stable,” he said in comments published Wednesday in the Austrian newspaper Standard, baffling many Bosnians.

Kurt Bassuener, a senior associate with the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin-based think-tank, told Al Jazeera that the crisis would worsen if the international community continued to address it only diplomatically.

Schmidt made it clear in his report that this is a security crisis, not just a political one, he noted.

“It demands a security response,” Bassuener said, such as strengthening EUFOR, which is deployed to ensure a safe and secure environment but has shrunk and below deterrence capacity for over a decade.

“There are more than enough weapons and more than enough vulnerable people to allow something very bad to happen,” Bassuener said.

“The potential for miscalculation among coercive actors in Bosnia is very, very high.

“I think it’s a very legitimate fear that unless this is seriously addressed with security tools in the immediate future – within days, weeks, not months – something bad is increasingly likely to happen that could not be planned but will bring. to something that will develop its own dynamic, “Bassuener said.

Meanwhile, in the central Bosnian city of Jajce, Samir Beharic said he felt nervous about the future for the first time in his life.

The 30-year-old said he was disappointed with the international community and did not expect “incompetent foreign diplomats” to ensure peace as their “quick fixes” didn’t work.

Recently, he said, his mother asked him if they should flee Jajce again, just as they did in 1992 after the Republika Srpska army took the city.

“She said she would rather die than experience war again and she’s not the only one,” he said.

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