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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - Adrian Wijemanne > Bosnian Experience in Conflict Resolution

Tamil National Forum

Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne

Bosnian Experience in Conflict Resolution

24 May 2003

The present impasse in the peace process affords an opportunity to take a step back and to consider the deeper implications of our experience during the last 15 months.

Were it not for the Norwegian participation in the Ceasefire Agreement its existence could, perhaps, be measured in days rather than weeks. The international presence, even though it lacks teeth, is what keeps the Ceasefire Agreement in force despite all the difficulties.

In the near future, however, we shall have to come to grips with far more onerous questions than the maintenance of the ceasefire.

There is the very large problem of peace-making i.e. finding a mutually acceptable form of state and , thereafter, the even more fraught question of peace-keeping. These are major issues on which recent international experience should be studied for its relevance to Sri Lanka.

The case of Bosnia Herzegovina is particularly relevant because there the settlement has been of a federal nature and the parties to the federation continue in possession of their arms and their disarmament is not even contemplated as it is accepted to be beyond the bounds of rational possibility.

Also its importance is now heightened by the fact that it was devised by the US State Department during the Clinton Administration and is now being pursued vigorously by the present Bush Administration.

Its key feature is the presence on the ground of a powerful heavily armed international stabilisation force and compliance by all parties is secured by supervening powers in the hands of the High Representative of the International Community ( presently Lord Ashdown) and a US Deputy ( presently Donald Hayes) who are resident in Bosnia Herzegovina and who report to an International Council in Brussels. It is an important model of what peacemaking and peacekeeping could be like in the future and is set forth in greater detail in my article attached below.

The Bosnian experiment and its lessons:

1. A concerted effort is being made by all three parties to the Ceasefire Agreement to find a federal solution to the Sri Lankan conflict. None of them has any first hand experience of federal government and the GOSL has to contend with a visceral antipathy to the federal form as a possible precursor to separation.

The federal states under study now are long established federations such as Switzerland, Belgium, Canada etc in which federation was not between parties which had been recently at war with each other. It is in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a former unitary state, that an attempt has been made to secure peace between three warring parties - Serbs, Muslims and Croats - by recourse to a federal form.

2. There are very few commonalities between the Bosnian conflict and that in Sri Lanka. In Bosnia there is no ethnic difference; all three parties are Southern Slavs. They all speak the same language, Serbo-Croat. It is written in different scripts - Roman letters among the Croats and Muslims and Cyrillic letters by the Serbs.

However, this difference too is mitigated by the teaching of both scripts in all schools, the publication of newspapers in both scripts and the familiarity of all persons with both scripts. In these respects the Bosnian situation is fundamentally different to that in Sri Lanka.

3. In Bosnia the nationalism of the three parties is founded on religious differences - the Roman Catholicism of the Croats, the Orthodox Christianity of the Serbs and Islam among the Muslims. In Sri Lanka religion is only the handmaiden of ethnic nationalism. The two situations are fundamentally different.

4. Territorially too there is a big difference. All three Bosnian nations have scattered enclaves in each others areas of majority domicile. There is no compact block of any one nation. Even the mainly Muslim capital city of Sarajevo has a Serb enclave in the north-east. In Sri Lanka the Tamil people claim the North-East Province as their area of traditional habitation while acknowledging the presence of other ethnic groups within it. The three Bosnian nations do not have an ethno-territorial foundation in a compact land mass as claimed by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

5. The war among the Bosnian nations lasted for a much shorter duration than that in Sri Lanka - three and a half years from April 1992 to November 1995 in Bosnia as against eighteen and a half years in Sri Lanka from July 1983 to December 2001. Despite the short duration the Bosnian war gave rise to a very big efflux of refugees - one and a half million persons as against half that number from Sri Lanka during a much longer period. The refugee crisis projected by the Bosnian war had, therefore,. a much sharper international focus than the war in Sri Lanka even though the refugee flows were in the same direction i.e. westwards into the liberal democracies which opened their doors to them.

6. The war in Bosnia was ended in 1995 by United States mediation, first by the Washington agreement which ended the Croat- Muslim conflict by the creation of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation and finally by the Dayton Accords which recognized the Republika Srepska of the Bosnian Serbs and set up the federal state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. replacing the former unitary state. The new state does not have the formal designation of "Federation" but it is one in fact with two constituent "entities" , namely , the Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation of the Croats and Muslims on the one hand and the Republika Srepska of the Bosnian Serbs on the other.

7. The constitutional order is complex with each body having a bicameral legislature. The overarching body, Bosnia-Herzegovina has a bi-cameral Parliamentary Assembly with a House of Representatives elected by popular franchise and a House of People elected by ethnic constituencies. The two "entities" which constitute Bosnia-Herzegovina each has bi-cameral legislatures and it is with these legislatures that effective power lies. The centre has a rotating Presidency with Vice-Presidents from the nations other than that of the President at any time. There is an agreement to have each of the nations equally represented in government employment from the lowest to the highest echelons.

8. The Dayton Accords of November 1995 recognized that their implementation could not be left to voluntary compliance by the three nations due to their recent history of war and mutual animosity. So they provided for international supervision of compliance backed by a Stabilisation Force of international composition.

There was to be an High Representative of the international community drawn from an European country and a Deputy drawn from the USA, both to be resident in Bosnia Herzegovina. At present the High Representative is Lord Ashdown from the U.K. and the Deputy is Donald Hayes from the USA. Lord Ashdown reports to Peace Implementation Council in Brussels composed of representatives of six major nations - USA, UK, France, Italy, Germany and Russia.

9. The High Representative has responsibility for implementation of the Dayton Accords in the civilian spheres of Refugee Return and Rehabilitation, Human Rights and the Protection of Minorities and in these areas his decisions override those of the "entities" or the centre which run counter to his decisions.

10. Also in the civilian area there is a Constitutional Court composed of nine judges - two from each of the three nations and three from the Peace Implementation Council.

11. The High Representative is backed in enforcing compliance with the Dayton Accords by the Stabilisation Force -SFOR- composed of troops from the USA, NATO and several other European countries such as Russia, Bulgaria, Albania etc. Its forces are stationed in three sectors into which the country has been divided - the north-east in which the forces are under US command; the south-east commanded by France and the rest under UK command. SFOR is under the overrall command of the High Representative and currently numbers around 15,000 troops. ( At the beginning in 1995 there were 60,000 troops.)

12. SFOR has several military responsibilities, among them the disarming of armed cadres in the border areas within the several enclaves of the different "entities", the storing of surrendered weapons, the regulating of military manoeouvres by the armed forces of the ""entities" and the fostering of cooperation between them by joint exercises etc.

13. The Dayton Accords do not prescribe any time limit for the presence of the High Representative or SFOR thus implying that their duration will depend on the degree and quality of compliance with the principles of the Accords as well as scrupulous observance of their letter.

14. Each of the "entities", namely the Croat-Muslim Federation and the Republika Srepska, has armed forces of its own while the centre, namely, Bosnia-Herzegovina, has none. The armed forces of the Croat-Muslim Federation are under separate Croat and Muslim commands, so in actual fact there are three sets of armed forces none of which has any significant aerial capability. Since the country is landlocked there are no naval forces, so the armed forces are exclusively ground troops. The forces of SFOR are more than capable of enforcing and maintaining peace between them and have done so over the last eight years from 1995 to the present.

15. From all this it is abundantly clear that present day Bosnia-Herzegovina is not an independent sovereign state. Just three and half years of war has ended that state and replaced it with a state on international probation.



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