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Bosnia and Herzegovina still divided 15 years after war

By Thair Shaikh, CNN
  • Bosnian Serbs back nationalists urging secession in general election
  • It is 15 years since the Dayton Accord ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war
  • An estimated 100,000 people died in the conflict, says U.N.
  • Results will almost certainly delay EU entry for Bosnia and Herzegovina

(CNN) -- The recent general election results in Bosnia and Herzegovina suggest the country is still mired in political deadlock and ethnic rivalry.

The political stalemate -- ethnic Serbs backed nationalists urging secession --means that the country's tripartite presidency remains split over the country's future.

The result is likely to delay economic recovery and European Union membership, according to Balkan analysts.

It is 15 years since the Dayton Accord which ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war in which an estimated 100,000 people died according to the U.N.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small state of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), ethnic Croats and ethnic Serbs, has a population of 4.6 million according to the CIA World Factbook and is still under international administration.

A good example of the cultural and religious divisions found in the country can be seen in the ancient city of Mostar, made infamous by Stari Most, its 16th century stone bridge.

Mostar was the scene of intense fighting between Croats from the western side of the Neretva river and Muslims on the east during the war.

Croat nationalists destroyed the bridge, originally built in 1566 when Mostar was under Turkish Ottoman rule, by shelling it in 1993. Its reconstruction and reopening in 2004 was supposed to be a step towards the rebuilding not only of destroyed ancient structures but also cultural divisions.

But 15 years after the peace deal, many buildings still lie derelict and there remain deep ethnic divisions in the former Yugoslav republic.

Despite millions spent by a host of international organizations, the scars of war in the city are still clearly visible
--Will Holder, photojournalist

Photojournalist Will Holder, who visited Mostar recently, told CNN: "Despite millions spent by a host of international organizations, the scars of war in the city are still clearly visible."

Tomas Valasek, of the London-based Centre for European Reform, said the war in Bosnia has continued by other means, such as politics.

"When I return to Mostar I'm surprised by how little healing as taken place. Speaking to the locals you realize there is a great deal of animosity.

"For example in the Croat part of Mostar there is an unusually tall church tower and locals say it was built to compete with the minarets [on the mosques] in the Muslim side of the city," he told CNN.

Valasek said that the EU and other world powers have failed to leverage the financial and political power they hold in the area into Bosnian political stability.

He adds that there are three reasons for many ruins still littering the landscape of Mostar and other parts of Bosnia: "The economy is still weak, there is political corruption and communities use damaged buildings as physical mementos to make a political statement."

Post-war Bosnia is divided into two entities: the Muslim-Croat federation and the ethnic Serb-controlled Republika Srpska. Each has its own parliament and is responsible for its own affairs.

In the recent elections Bosnians elected the leaders of the central government and the two regions. They also voted on who took the seats in the central parliament and in the two regional assemblies.

The results saw voters from the Muslim-Croat federation opt for more moderate forces.

Bakir Izetbegovic, son of wartime Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), won the race for the presidency's Muslim seat and Zeljko Komsic, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), recaptured the Croat seat, according to election officials.

But voters in the Republika Srpska backed the Serb-nationalist Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). They also elected SNSD leader Milorad Dodik to the presidency.

Dodik repeated his secessionist position by dismissing Bosnia as an "impossible state," Agence-France Presse reported.

The country has been politically deadlocked since the 2006 polls because Bosnian Serbs oppose any strengthening of the central institutions at the expense of their own autonomy.

The international community has been pushing to strengthen central government and has made it a key requirement for Bosnia's EU membership.

On Monday the U.S. called on the new Bosnian leaders to kick-start the political reforms needed to unify the country, but Dodik dismissed the call, reports Agence-France Presse.