Bosniak, Croat leaders call drills ‘a clear provocation’, but Serb officials say it has nothing to do with Bosnia’s deep political crisis.
Bosnia’s Serb police have held an “anti-terrorist” drill just outside the capital Sarajevo in a move seen by many as another provocation by the Serb separatist leadership.
The exercise on Friday was held in the ski resort at Mt Jahorina, the general area from where the Bosnian Serb military relentlessly shelled and sniped Sarajevo throughout Bosnia’s 1991-95 war. Thousands of Sarajevo citizens were killed or injured during the attacks.
The drill involved armoured vehicles, helicopters, and special police force personnel in camouflage uniforms and armed with assault rifles.
The European Union Force, deployed in Bosnia to maintain peace in the ethnically divided nation, dispatched an aircraft to monitor the exercise.
Bosnian Serb Interior Minister Dragan Lukac said the EURFOR flyover “was unnecessary” and prevented a second helicopter from taking off “to avoid a collision”.
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Bosniak and Bosnian Croat leaders denounced the Serb drills as “a clear provocation,” while Bosnian Serb officials said it was planned a long time ago and has nothing to do with Bosnia’s deep political crisis.
Lukac said the drill aimed to show the police’s readiness before the start of the upcoming winter season, as thousands of tourists visit mountain Jahorina daily.
Simultaneously, Bosnian Serb police also held a drill near Mrkonjic Grad in western Bosnia.
Bosnia’s war that pitted Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats against each other, ended with a US-sponsored peace agreement in 1995 that created two regions, the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation.
The two regions were given wide autonomy, but kept some joint institutions, including the army, top judiciary and tax administration. Bosnia also has a rotating three-member presidency comprising Bosniak, Serb and Croat members.
The Bosnian Serb presidency member, Milorad Dodik, has for years been advocating the separation of Republika Srpska and having it join neighbouring Serbia – something that would unlikely win approval from the US and much of the West.
Dodik, who has tacit support from Russia and his allies in Serbia, has recently upped his drive, pledging that the Bosnian Serb parliament will, by the end of November, declare the creation of its own army and judiciary.
The Bosnian Serb assembly earlier this week adopted a law establishing its own medicine procurement agency, the first of Dodik’s pledges to separate joint institutions from those at the state level, in violation of the peace accords.
Many Bosnians and international institutions fear that the separatist moves could ignite another armed conflict.
The US has already imposed a travel ban against Dodik and earlier this week has warned sanctions against his allies if his separatist moves continue.