West imposes law to set up Bosnian border police

SARAJEVO, Jan 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) The West's powerful peace coordinator in Bosnia imposed legislation on Thursday to set up a police force against border crime after Serbs in the ethnically polarized parliament refused to support the bill.

International High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch decreed the security measure a day after it was defeated in parliament because of resistance by ultra-nationalist Serbs who feared it would dilute the powers of their autonomous region.

"Bosnia ... urgently needs a border service," the Austrian diplomat said in a statement. "It is key to its integration in Europe; every country in Europe must have control of its borders."

Petritsch said it would help combat crime, especially smuggling, and illegal immigration which he said were big problems in Bosnia.

The move showed the international community's determination to push forward the peace process and overcome what it regards as obstructionism by hardline nationalists opposing attempts to strengthen state institutions such as the planned border police.

Under the Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war, Petritsch has the power to impose laws and remove officials who block efforts to rebuild the ethnically divided Balkan country.

He took action after Bosnian Serb deputies in the 42-seat lower house of parliament voted on Wednesday against the draft law, which required the backing of all three ethnic groups to be adopted. Moslem and Croat deputies supported the law.

Petritsch blasted Serb deputies for voting against, saying in a strongly worded statement that he was very dissatisfied with their inability and unwillingness to represent what he described as the honest people of Bosnia.

Apart from battling crime, a joint border police would bring about increased customs revenue which could be used to build schools, roads and hospitals, he said.

"I will not allow a few irresponsible state representatives from the RS (Bosnia's Serb republic) to dash an entire country's hopes for a prosperous and open future," Petritsch said.

Post-war Bosnia consists of a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb republic, each enjoying wide autonomy.

The proposal to establish a joint border force is particularly controversial in the Serb half, with nationalists there fearing it would take away powers from their government.

The border force's responsibility would generally extend 6.25 miles (10 kilometers) in from Bosnia's international border, which touches on Croatia and Serbian-led Yugoslavia. The headquarters would be in Sarajevo, with field offices as required.

U.N. spokesman Douglas Coffman said 30 future officers would depart on Sunday for two weeks of training in Austria. Western officials earlier said the force eventually might have up to 2,000-3,000 members.

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