BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
On patrol with Sarajevo police
The delay in reforming police forces in divided Bosnia-Hercegovina is frustrating local officers and worrying the EU, the BBC's Nicholas Walton reports from Sarajevo.

The night shift at Sarajevo's main police office would be familiar to policemen across the world.

Dragan Miokovic (right) and a colleague in the control room of Sarajevo's cantonal police
Dragan Miokovic (r) says criminals take advantage of the current chaos

Officers take calls about domestic violence incidents and a disturbance at a bar in the city centre. They drink a lot of coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk about work and football.

But Bosnia is not a normal country and these officers do not work like a normal police force.

The Dayton peace accord that ended the country's bloody war just over a decade ago split Bosnia into two halves - the Republika Srpska and the Federation.

Each now has its own police force. Each of the cantonal districts that makes up the Federation also has its own force, and some police are also controlled at the national level. It makes for a confusing situation.


"In Sarajevo if a crime is committed on the streets that are part of one of the entities, the Federation, and the criminal drives four, five kilometres outside the centre, he crosses the boundary line into Republika Srpska," says Zinaida Ilaria, spokesperson for the EU Police Mission in Bosnia.

Mark Waine, a chief inspector from Britain who works with the EU Police Mission
Mark Waine says Bosnia has a very vulnerable position geographically

"Then the Federation police no longer have the competence to follow the criminal."

Dragan Miokovic has spent 20 years with Sarajevo's police force. He is frustrated at how this system stops him doing his job effectively.

"We don't need the borders between police officers, between the Federation and Republika Srpska. We don't need those borders. They are useful only for the criminals," he says.

"We need one structure, one law, and after that, everything will be up to us."

Sometimes the officers are able to find a way around the problem.

Mr Miokovic tells me that earlier in his shift informal phone calls to his opposite number in Republika Srpska resulted in the arrest of a murder suspect.

But this relied on personal contacts to be able to get around the system. Normally the system itself frustrates the officers.

EU worry

The problem for the rest of Europe is that if crime is not dealt with successfully in Bosnia, it can easily spread into the EU.

EU Police Mission cars in Sarajevo
The EU Police Mission boasts a fleet of new cars

"It's in a very vulnerable position geographically, in terms of drug producing countries, in terms of trafficking things like drugs and people that find their way into western Europe," says Mark Waine, a chief inspector from Britain who works with the EU Police Mission.

"Bosnia has a very large border area, difficult to control. It also suffered a very nasty conflict. As a result it's been pretty easy for people to exploit that," he says.

This is a worry for the EU.

"If you have one country which is in a lawless situation, it becomes a place where crime festers," says Drew Sullivan, a journalist who has investigated organised crime here.

"In Bosnia you have heroin coming in from Afghanistan, you have women and drugs coming in to London and Ibiza and places like that, so a lot of the problems that are happening in Western Europe start in Eastern Europe," he says.

Some 170 foreign policemen are in Bosnia to help train local officers in better crime-fighting techniques and how to deal with problems like political interference and corruption.

Strong pressures

The EU is also trying to bring about reform through diplomatic means. But an apparent breakthrough on a multi-ethnic police force last year has since run aground.

Mr Miokovic thinks politicians should do more to resolve the situation.

"I believe the police force here in Sarajevo does its best. But our efforts can be much better. That depends on the politicians in this country," he says.

The problem is that many politicians see their local police force as an extension of their own power, and want the system to stay as it is.

In Republika Srpska, Bosnian Serb politicians who want independence from the rest of Bosnia do not want to give up control of the police to a national government.

Such strong pressures mean that reforming Bosnia's police is a distant prospect - even if it is seen as vital not just in Bosnia, but by those worried about law and order across the EU too.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific