Clinton to Push Bosnia for Reforms at Start of Balkans Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton begins a five-nation Balkans tour on Tuesday, seeking to push regional leaders to stick to existing agreements and enact the reforms needed to join the EU and NATO.

Clinton, who will be joined by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during her first stop in Sarajevo, is expected to call on Bosnia to speed up reforms in a country still deeply divided along ethnic lines 17 years after the 1992-1995 war there.

The pair "will underline the urgent need for party leaders to serve the interests of the people of that country and accomplish necessary reforms" to become members of the European Union and NATO, a State Department spokesman said ahead of the trip.

"We are disappointed that the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina have not put the interests of the country first oftentimes and instead have promoted narrow ethnic or party or personal agendas," he added.

Clinton and Ashton are due to meet with Bosnia's three-man presidency and top international officials.

Following the U.S.-brokered 1995 Dayton peace deal, Bosnia consists of two semi-independent entities -- the Serbs's Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. Each of the two halves, which are linked by weak central institutions, has its own government.

The ethnic rift in Bosnia is deeper than ever with Serbs rejecting any boosting of central institutions, sought by Muslims and the international community, and regularly warning that their entity could break away and should negotiate separately on EU entry.

However, Clinton will stress that the "institutions and arrangements" laid out for Bosnia in the Dayton accords "are here to stay".

Sarajevo lags behind its neighbors in their EU path. Bosnia is the only Balkans country that has yet to apply for EU membership, which it will probably do by the end of this year.

Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said he expects "support for accession to the EU and NATO" and "a clear call" to Bosnian politicians that there is no alternative to reforms which have to be stepped up.

After Sarajevo Clinton will travel to Belgrade and Pristina later Tuesday.

There, Clinton and Ashton will "reiterate U.S.-EU resolve for Serbia and Kosovo to build on previous agreements and advance their dialogue" a key condition for progress on their respective paths to EU membership, the State Department said.

Serbia rejects Kosovo's unilateral 2008 proclamation of independence, which is recognized by some 90 states including 22 of the EU's 27 members and the United States.

Talks between Belgrade and Pristina, launched in March 2011 under EU auspices, were suspended before May's elections in Serbia, won by nationalists. Two weeks ago Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic met his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci in Brussels signaling a new phase in the talks.

Ahead of Clinton's visit Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said Belgrade was "ready to make a lot of compromises in order to solve (the) Kosovo issue, but it would expect (the) ethnic Albanian side to do the same".

Serbia is an EU candidate, and Kosovo hopes to formalize ties, but the bloc has made clear to both that they must restart talks and show concrete results.

Clinton will end her tour in Croatia and Albania, which joined the NATO transatlantic military alliance in 2009.

Clinton last visited Bosnia, as well as Serbia and Kosovo -- which emerged from the 1990s break-up of the former Yugoslavia -- in 2010.

Of the six former Yugoslav republics, only Slovenia is an EU member, having joined in 2004. Croatia is set to become the 27-nation's bloc newest member next July.

Source: Agence France Presse

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