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Bosnian Croat Leader Sacked

Bosnia's international administrator sacks Ante Jelavic from the country's tripartite presidency
By Amra Kebo

Bosnia's High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch this week dismissed Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, leader Ante Jelavic from the tripartite Bosnian presidency, following threats by Croat hard-liners to set up a separate mini-state.

Petritsch barred Jelavic from holding any elected office or political party post.

The high representative additionally sacked three other senior HDZ officials - Ivo Andric-Luzanski was barred from his seat in the Bosnian state House of Representatives, while Marko Tokic and Zdravko Batinic, vice-presidents of the HDZ, were banned from further political activity and participating in elections.

Petritsch said the ban came in response to the HDZ's violation of the Federation and state constitutions.

"This was not an easy decision, however, there was no other alternative," Petritsch said. "Jelavic and the others have tried for some time to obstruct the Dayton agreement in order to preserve their privileges.

"They were spreading rumours within the Croat community in BiH that their nation is not equal to others. This argument was used in the past by the nationalist leaders and there is no need for me to remind you once again that the war in former Yugoslavia was based on this perception."

The high representative ruled out economic sanctions against the Bosnian Croat community - which had been hinted at. But the party has obstructed the work of state and entity institutions in Sarajevo for four months, and many people in Bosnia will feel that his tough line with the HDZ is long overdue.

On March 3, the HDZ-dominated Croatian National Assembly, HNS, in Mostar announced the formation of an illegal, parallel Croat mini-state in Bosnia, combining two predominantly Croat populated cantons. Tokic was elected president and Batinic vice-president. Luzanski was named president of its executive council.

The HNS sent an ultimatum to the international community, saying the new "entity" would leave Bosnia within two weeks unless controversial changes to legislation governing the election of deputies to the state parliament's upper house were reversed.

The HDZ viewed the revised law as a direct attack on the party. The new provisions prevent the election of deputies based on their ethnic background and helped moderate and multi-ethnic parties to victory in the November 2000 general elections.

"Law and order are slowly taking root in Bosnia which has made it increasingly difficult for people like him to operate," Petritsch said of Jelavic. "This all points to the fact that Jelavic is not interested in the well being of Croats whom he claims to represent. Instead, he is more interested in nationalist and criminal elements within his own party."

Petritsch said he had sacked the HDZ officials because he wanted economic prosperity for Bosnian Croats.

"A third entity would be a form of ghetto where they [Bosnian Croats] would be impoverished, " he said. " The creation of the third entity would have left behind the Croats from Posavina, Central Bosnia and Sarajevo."

With Jelavic removed from the Bosnian presidency, there is now an opportunity to elect moderates to the body.

Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) nationalist leader Alija Izetbegovic, long-time leader of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, retired last year. His place was taken temporarily by fellow SDA politician Halid Genjac.

The state House of Representatives, where moderates are in the majority for the first time, is due to elect replacements for Jelavic and Genjac in ten days time.

Jelavic has yet to comment on his dismissal, but spokesmen have warned the move will only entrench support for Croat autonomy.

Jelavic's advisor Veso Vegar said, "Every radical measure provokes a radical reaction, and many Croats will now demand the formation of a third entity within Bosnia."

Following the Mostar meeting, Jelavic wrote to US President George W Bush asking him to consider the HNS decision. He also demanded an international conference to hammer out a "new order" in Bosnia. But the US government has backed Petritsch's decision.

So too, crucially, has Zagreb. Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the sackings "were expected". "We warned the Bosnian HDZ leadership to avoid extremist solutions in such a complex situation," Racan told Croatian television.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said the HDZ had no right to presume it is the only legitimate representative of the Bosnian Croat people. He said the community should resolve its problems within Bosnia's state institutions, and Croatian officials had engaged unsuccessfully in mediation efforts between Bosnian Croat hard-liners and western diplomats to try to resolve the crisis before Petritsch's sacking.

The High Representative does not anticipate any trouble in the wake of the ban. Vegar reassured him that the HDZ would accept the decision and ruled out a violent reaction to Jelavic's removal.

Nevertheless, Tokic told Voice of America radio the move towards Croat self-rule would continue. "The latest HDZ moves as well as creation of the self-rule will surely be implemented since there is no dialogue with the other side," he said.

Before his dismissal, Jelavic said sarcastically that he would be honoured if Petritsch were to sack him. He said Bosnian Croats, "will sooner or later create the state of three constitutive nations, where Croats will be equal to Serbs and Bosniaks."

The high representative's spokeswoman, Alexandra Stiglmayer, said if the Bosnian Croats were "crazy" enough to persist in their pursuit of self-rule, "the international community will take further measures".

What exactly those measures might be remains unclear.

Amra Kebo, a journalist with Oslobodjenje, is a regular IWPR contributor.

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