The US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday that Bosnia was on a “dangerous path” that could break the war-scarred Balkan nation apart due to pressure from Bosnian Serb separatists.
Ms Thomas-Greenfield said Bosnia was at a “critical juncture in its post-war history”, with Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik pushing for Serb troops to leave the army and create a force for their Republika Srpska region.
“The heated rhetoric must stop,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council.
“Milorad Dodik has called for the Republika Srpska’s withdrawal from the armed forces and from state-level institutions … this is a dangerous path, both for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and also for the wider western Balkan region.”
The UN council met to discuss a report from Christian Schmidt, the high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which said Bosnia faces the biggest “existential threat of the post-war period”.
Mr Schmidt was set to deliver his warning in person, but his appearance in the New York chamber was cancelled due to opposition from Russia, an ally of Serbia and Serb groups across the fractured Balkans.
Council members voted to extend the mandate of the Eufor peacekeeping mission in Bosnia by one year, but references to Mr Schmidt were removed from the document at Moscow’s insistence.
The report by Mr Schmidt, a senior German diplomat, said the “prospects of further division and conflict are very real” if Serb troops exit the Bosnian army and create their own force.
Such a move would be “tantamount to secession” as it would “undermine the state’s ability to function and carry out its constitutional responsibilities”, he wrote.
It would “endanger not only the peace and stability of the country and the region, but — if unanswered by the international community — could lead to the undoing” of the agreement that ended the Bosnian War in 1995.
That conflict began in 1992, when Bosnian Serbs, backed by the Yugoslav army, tried to create Serb-only territories that could join neighbouring Serbia. More than 100,000 people were killed and millions were left homeless.
Years of bloodshed between Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslim, Serbs and Croats ended with the US-backed peace deal that created two largely autonomous regions, the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation.
Mr Dodik, the Bosnian Serb member of the country’s three-person presidency, has for years called for a Bosnian Serb mini-state to split and join Serbia.
His campaign has intensified in recent months, with tacit support from Russia and Serbia.