Ethnic Conflict Persists in Bosnia, 10 Years After Pact

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The Dayton peace agreement brought an end to the 1992-95 war that pitted Bosnia's Croats, Muslims and Serbs against each other. But ethnic conflict continues there.


On this date 10 years ago, President Bill Clinton announced that he had just received a message. Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia had reached an agreement to end what Mr. Clinton called the worst conflict in Europe since World War II. The agreement was negotiated at a US military base in Dayton, Ohio. It ended a brutal civil war by dividing Bosnia in two parts: one part run by Croats and Bosnian Muslims, the other part run by ethnic Serbs. The partition was a bitter reality for Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnia's president.

President ALIJA IZETBEGOVIC (Bosnia): To my people I say this may not be a just peace, but it is more just than a continuation of war. In the situation as it is and in the world as it is, a better peace could not have been achieved.

INSKEEP: One decade later, that country remains divided and in Washington this week talks among the three factions are under way to negotiate a revised, unifying constitution. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli covered the Bosnia war and the peace agreement and she joins us now from Rome.

And, Sylvia, can you just draw us a picture of the way Bosnia looks today?


Well, the capital of Sarajevo is quite sparkling and newly polished, but below the surface the country is extremely divided and complicated. In July, I went to Srebrenica for the 10th anniversary of the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces. The prewar population was majority Muslim, but the city now lies in Bosnian Serb territory and few Muslims have returned to live there. But thanks to the electoral law, the city is run by Muslims who travel there once or twice a month for administrative purposes. In July, hundreds of Serbian police were on hand to ensure security, but all of them turned their backs on the ceremony. It was very chilling. And when it was time for the national anthem, we heard only the music because Bosnia's three ethnic groups have been unable to agree on the lyrics.

INSKEEP: Well, that does raise a question. We mentioned that they're now negotiating toward a unifying constitution. Do the various factions here agree on enough to live peacefully under the same government?

POGGIOLI: Well, the problem is that, you know, Dayton ensured a decade of peace, but it also produced a very dysfunctional structure. Each entity has its own government, parliament and police. There's a weak central government with a three-man presidency. And it's a foreigner, the internationally appointed high representative, who has the power to impose laws and fire officials. Sirjan Didodovic(ph), who's a Bosnian human rights leader, says a monster state has been created in which apartheid has been installed. He says some of the displaced have returned to their homes, but often only to register briefly with authorities, sell their homes and property and then move to places where they can live and build a life among their own. He says the result is the creation of ethnically pure regions.

INSKEEP: And when we talk about a country that was at war, brutally at war, and three different major factions there, it's hard not to ask if there are any lessons here for what's happening in Iraq.

POGGIOLI: Well, many European officials say that elections alone have not ensured democratization. There've been many Bosnia elections, but the parties that went to war are still in power. Others say there was too much emphasis on the military and not enough on the political and economic needs. Official unemployment is 40 percent. The only real investments have come from Islamic countries. There's widespread corruption and the economy is largely kept on life support. It's true. Dayton brought an end to a brutal war that claimed more than 200,000 lives, and that agreement was propelled by the United States, but it was reached thanks to close European and Russian cooperation.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks very much.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.

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