Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remember Brcko! Why It's Not Easy to Be Hard in Bosnia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remember Brcko! Why It's Not Easy to Be Hard in Bosnia

Article excerpt

Bosnia was on edge for several months as international arbitrators considered the future of Brcko. On Feb. 15 the decision finally arrived: The strategically located town in northeastern Bosnia remains under Serb control for one year while original inhabitants are encouraged to return. At first glance, the decision is reasonable; scratch the surface, however, and the familiar indecisiveness becomes apparent.

Brcko, like many other Bosnian towns, had its ethnic composition forcibly altered during the war. Once predominantly Muslim and Croat, the town is now controlled and populated by Bosnian Serbs. If Brcko's story is not unusual, its location is. It lies along the thin corridor connecting Bosnia's two Serb-controlled areas. The arbitration was tense, and Serb republic officials intimated that violence might greet an unfavorable decision.

Seeking an easy answer, the international community again ratified the status quo. The planned increase in unarmed monitors is symbolic and will be of little use to those trying to return. Recent experience gives no reason to believe that, absent coercion, Serb administrators will let the displaced come back. If the international community had mustered the courage, it could have made one of two hard decisions. First, it could have used Brcko as a lever to promote a unified Bosnia by putting the town under trusteeship backed by an enhanced military presence. The International Crisis Group, which monitors implementation of the Dayton accords, suggested this as a means of revitalizing the peace agreement. But the energy for that level of engagement is absent. The frustration of the European Union's administration of Mostar likely soured decisionmakers on trusteeship. An equally hard decision, and one perhaps more consistent with existing political will, would have been to hand over Brcko to the Muslim-Croat Federation, which has the strongest claim to its administration. This imperfect solution might have led to an exodus of current Serb residents. It also might have sparked armed confrontations between NATO and Serb forces. The question, however, is whether it is better for the needed transition to occur now, with substantial NATO forces in the country, or for the federation to fight for the town later when these troops have departed and conflict over Brcko could spread to other areas. …

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