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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne

The Road to Peace - Peace by Federation
The Bosnian experiment and its lessons for Sri Lanka

19 July 2003

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, and 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.

Religious difference (Bosnia) vs. ethnic nationalism (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.

US mediation ended war

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 an House of Representatives elected by popular franchise and an 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

Stabilisation compels compliance

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 a 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 maneouvres 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.

State on international probation

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. Compliance with international requirements judged by the international community as indispensable for the maintenance of peace is enforced by international troops on the ground and supervised by a resident High Representative. In all but name it is an International Protectorate. That has been the price for preserving territorial integrity and avoiding break-up. And it is all due to the recognition of the impossibility of disarming the former warring parties who continue in possession of their arms.

16. In Sri Lanka too any hope of disarming the warring parties is vain. Neither party can disarm the other. In that respect it is a Bosnian situation. Just like in Bosnia a federal structure aimed at preserving the territorial integrity of the state will require international enforcement with troops on the ground and supervision by an international representative reporting to an international body committed to maintaining peace. Sovereign independence is the price that will have to be paid for peace with but a fig leaf of territorial integrity.

17. The alternative of total separation into two independent sovereign states, each a member of the United Nations and thus bound by the UN Charter's provisions against aggression and securing the territorial integrity of each state seems to this writer a more attractive and practicable proposition.



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