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Bosnia: Sarovic Sacking Expected

Prominent Bosnian Serb politician linked to arms sale scandal may be dismissed from country's presidency.
By Gordana Katana

The United Nations High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown, is expected this week to sack the chairman of republic's tripartite presidency, Mirko Sarovic, following revelations of arms sales to Iraq.


Sarovic may be forced out after allegations of illegal military exports to Iraq by the Bosnian Serb aerospace company Orao during his time as Republika Srpska, RS, president between 2000 and 2002.


Spokesman of the Office of the High Representative, OHR, Julian Braithwaite, told IWPR that a report it compiled last October on violations of the UN arms embargo "undoubtedly proves Sarovic's political responsibility for this scandal".


Braithwaite indicated that the High Representative is likely to respond to the report's findings this week, but said he would not be drawn over the steps he might take.


The case against Sarovic appears to have been strengthened by a confidential dossier on the Orao affair, drawn up by western intelligence agencies, which was presented at a March 28 meeting in Brussels of the Peace Implementation Council, PIC.


The Reuters news agency, which says it has seen a copy, reports that the document holds Sarovic politically responsible for the company's illegal trade with Baghdad.


The media here have been speculating about the possibility of the Bosnian Serb politician's dismissal from the country's tripartite presidency ever since General William Ward, NATO Security Force, SFOR, commander in Bosnia, sent a letter in February to the RS government, requesting it to supplement its initial report on the Orao scandal given in December last year.


The report by the Banja Luka authorities had insisted that no Serbian political figure should be held responsible for the sale of spare parts and services for Iraqi military aircraft, although the RS defence minister and the army chief of staff did resign over the affair.


The report leaked to Reuters said the latter was an attempt to protect high-level government officials.


Besides his responsibility for the Orao scandal, says Braithwaite, Sarovic may also have to answer for the alleged espionage activities of the RS military intelligence service which came to light last week (see accompanying report).


"This scandal proves that the RS army is behaving as if it were not a part of the (Bosnian) armed forces, which is a grave violation of the Dayton Peace Accord, and as the president of the Republic of Srpska, Sarovic was responsible for this as well," Braithwaite said.


The espionage scandal emerged after the inspection of documents SFOR troops seized from the offices of the 410th RS army's intelligence centre in Banja Luka last month.


A military analyst based in the entity, Dragan Marcetic, believes there's no alternative to Sarovic's dismissal, "As the RS president and the RS army's supreme commander, he is both politically and military responsible for the Orao scandal and that is unquestionable."


Sarovic has refused to comment about speculation over his imminent sacking, and his party, the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, rejects that he was in any way involved in illegal arms exports to Iraq.


RS president and SDS vice-president Dragan Cavic, who was appointed by the international community to head the Banja Luka government team that reported on Orao, supports this view.


In a statement issued on March 23, Cavic shifted full responsibility for the scandal on to the company's management and heads of the RS army General Staff.


Although the company was alleged to have traded with Iraq between 1988 and 2002, Cavic claimed that no civil structures in the RS government were informed about it.


SDS spokesman Dusan Stojicic said at a party press conference on March 31 that he hopes the High Representative will "not become subject to media hysteria and that he will base his final decision on the RS government's December report".


Stojicic also insisted that the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, which serves as the country's constitution, does not give the High Representative the authority to dismiss legally elected officials. No mention was made of the PIC's 1998 decision to grant the High Representative exactly such powers.


Stojicic said the SDS will act if Sarovic is sacked over the Orao scandal, but did not elaborate on what possible measures the party could take.


"This would be a selective political act - a policy of double standards," he said, insisting that Federation companies had also violated the UN embargo on exporting arms to Iraq.


Gordana Katana is a journalist with Voice of America.


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