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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 21:52 GMT


World: Europe

Disputed Bosnian town declared neutral



The disputed Bosnian town of Brcko is to be made a self-governing neutral district under international supervision.

The pro-Western Bosnian Serb Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik, has resigned following the decision.


[ image: US soldiers make checks near Brcko]
US soldiers make checks near Brcko
Brcko had a predominantly Bosnian Muslim and Croat population until it was captured by separatist Serb forces early in the war.

It has been in Serb control but under international supervision since the conflict ended.

Both the Serbs and the Muslims have been claiming the right to have the town officially declared as part of their territory.

Peace force boost

An international panel of arbitrators has now placed Brcko in the hands of a new multi-ethnic district government, outside the jurisdiction of both the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The decision was announced on Friday by the High Representitive for Bosnia and Hercegovina, Carlos Westerndorp.

Ahead of the ruling, the Nato-led Bosnian peace force beefed up its presence in Brcko, 120 km (75 miles) north of Sarajevo, and a spokeswoman for the force called on the Serb population to remain calm.

The US Embassy urged Americans to keep away from Bosnia, particularly its Serb part.

Strategic position

Brcko, situated on Bosnia's northern border with Croatia, is the narrowest point of a corridor connecting the eastern and western parts of Republika Srpska.


[ image: The decision was announced by Mr Westerndorp]
The decision was announced by Mr Westerndorp
For Bosnian Muslims and Croats it also has strategic significance. Road, river and rail links through the town provide access for the Bosniak-Croat Federation to Central Europe.

They also say that since the Serbs took control of the town, in 1992, and expelled the Croats and Muslims who were in a majority, awarding it to the Serbs would reward ethnic cleansing.

After the fighting ended, the two entities could not agree on the future of Brcko.

A decision on its fate was postponed for a year, and the town was left in control of Bosnian Serbs, under an international supervisor, Robert Farrand.

But the decision was put off twice more when the international arbitration panel felt that awarding it to either side would destabilise the peace in Bosnia.

Multi-ethnic police force

Under pressure from Mr Farrand, Bosnian Serb authorities in Brcko have allowed the return of 1,200 Bosniak families - however so far they remain on the outskirts of town.

Mr Farrand has also established a multi-ethnic administration and police force, which have yet to start fully functioning.

The international community hopes that this solution will allow the return of Croat and Bosniak refugees, and will provide an example of multi-ethnic administration in this divided country.





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Internet Links


Office of Carlos Westendorp

Embassy of Bosnia-Hercegovina in Washington DC

Text of the Dayton Peace Agreement

Yugoslavia History File: BBC News Online's guide to Balkans history


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