The FINANCIAL — Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met with Bosnian leaders on September 7 and discussed establishing state borders, trade, infrastructure, and other economic issues.
Before the meeting, the three members of Bosnia’s presidency — Dragan Covic, Mladen Ivanic, and Bakir Izetbegovic — welcomed Vucic on his first visit to Sarajevo at a ceremony at the presidential building, according to RFE/RL’s Balkan Service.
During his two-day visit, Vucic and the Bosnian leaders had been expected to discuss issues outstanding since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and the bloody Bosnian War that followed, including issues related to Bosnia’s Serb-majority entity, Republika Srpska.
As part of the 1995 peace agreement known as the Dayton accords, Bosnia was preserved as a state but broken into two constituent states: a Muslim-Croat federation and the Serbian entity — Republika Srpska.
President Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska’s nationalist leader, has claimed that the Serbian-majority entity will one day be part of Serbia.
Before traveling to Sarajevo, Vucic had distanced himself from that claim, saying he “always respects Dodik, as president of Republika Srpska, and that institution.”
But he added that “I can tell you the position of Serbia — we respect the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We have no claims toward Bosnia-Herzegovina, as we expect from Bosnia-Herzegovina and every other state towards the territory of Serbia.”
In an interview with Sarajevo newspaper Dnevni Avaz, Vucic said his country will do everything possible to avoid future disputes with Bosnia.
Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina “must have the closest relations, which includes mutual respect and respect of the borders,” he said.
Vucic’s visit comes six years after a president of Serbia — Boris Tadic – last traveled to Sarajevo on an official visit. Vucic, a former prime minister, was sworn in as president on May 31, succeeding Tomislav Nikolic.
He was accompanied by Serbian Trade, Tourism, and Telecommunications Minister Rasim Ljajic and Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic.
Ini his meeting with Bosnian leaders, Vucic also discussed removing custom barriers that have impeded a freer flow of trade.
Vucic is also expected to help launch several infrastructure projects related to Republika Srpska, including a Belgrade-to-Sarajevo highway, along with discussing providing additional financial aid to the struggling entity.
Bosnia faces internal tensions among the Bosniaks — the Bosnian Muslim population — ethnic Croats, and ethnic Serbs.
It was a part of Yugoslavia until the breakup of the communist country in the early 1990s. It declared independence in March 1992, leading to a civil war between its Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian populations.
The war, which ended following international intervention in December 1995, resulted in the death of an estimated 100,000 people and the displacement of some 2.6 million more.
The U.S. Treasury Department in January announced sanctions against Dodik for actively obstructing efforts to implement the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.
Vucic was once an ultranationalist who served under strongman Slobodan Milosevic but has solidified his grip on power by reinventing himself as a reformer committed to Serbia’s drive toward European Union membership.
The Serbian presidency is largely ceremonial, but he has retained much de facto power through control of his ruling Serbian Progressive Party.
Bosnia has also expressed desires to join the EU.
With reporting by Balkan Insight and B92.net