The decision by the Serb entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina to hand over indictees to a United Nations war crimes tribunal seems to signify a change of attitude at last, 10 years after the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims by Serbs in Srebrenica and the Dayton accords that ended the war there, the Security Council was told today.
"It is early days – and only natural that seasoned observers should remain sceptical," High Representative Lord Paddy Ashdown, the international community's top civilian administrator in the country, said in an open briefing of the five indictees handed over in the last two months to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
"But I do now believe we may be seeing a change in the attitude of the RS (Republika Srpska) authorities, and an acceptance that the way to Brussels and the European Union (EU) and to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), lies through The Hague," he added, stressing that there must be no respite until all indictees are in custody.
Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croatian Bosniak/Croat Federation are the constituent parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which recently saw its efforts to join NATO's Partnership-for-Peace programme rejected over the RS's failure to honour its obligations to cooperate fully with the ICTY. It is also seeking European integration.
But the Serbs' wartime commander, Ratko Mladic, remains on the run, Lord Ashdown warned. "Mladic might reflect on the fact that it is a curious military code in which a general lets his subordinate officers carry the can for actions they carried out in his name, while he scurries from safe housed to safe house like a common criminal," he said.
"Now, I do not claim that the events of the last few weeks yet constitute the full cooperation that the Tribunal requires. Ten years after Srebrenica, the call for justice doesn't fade away, and must not fade away.
"This process will not end until (Serb wartime President Radovan) Karadzic and Mladic and every other indictee is in custody. The sooner that day comes, the sooner BiH will start to discard the chains of history. I commend the RS authorities for the progress of the last few weeks.
"The crucial thing now is that it continues. But we cannot tolerate any slackening of effort. There is no scope for that," he declared. Noting other requirements such as police restructuring and defence reform, on which he said there had been recent "backsliding" by the RS, Lord Ashdown voiced the hope that this will be the year in which BiH starts to "embed itself firmly in the Euro-Atlantic structures."
Invited to take the floor, BiH Security Minister Barisa Colak told the 15-member body he expected that the EU would recognize significant progress on the country's part, and give it a green light for the opening of Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations in May. His country stood ready to invest further in fulfilling its international obligations, particularly towards the ICTY, he said.
Speaking for the EU, Luxembourg Ambassador Jean-Marc Hoscheit said that despite "significant progress" across 16 priority areas, some significant hurdles remained, notably cooperation with the ICTY and restructuring of police forces, for BiH to advance towards the next stage of its relationship with the Union. Full cooperation with the Tribunal, in particular by the RS, continued to be an essential requirement, he added.
Video of Council meeting [2hrs 03mins]