Muslim leader takes chair of Bosnian presidency

SARAJEVO, Feb 15, 2000 -- (Reuters) Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic took over the chairmanship of Bosnia's three-man inter-ethnic presidency on Monday, vowing to accelerate the country's integration into Europe.

"Efforts to join the Council of Europe...remain our top priority," the Bosnian state radio quoted Izetbegovic as saying.

Izetbegovic, head of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), succeeds Ante Jelavic, head of the Bosnian branch of Croatia's nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), for the next eight months. Zivko Radisic, a Serb, is the third member.

The three men were elected in September 1998 for four years.

Postwar Bosnia is made up of two highly autonomous regions - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic. But joint Bosnian state bodies such as the presidency, parliament and government are in charge of foreign and civil affairs and trade.

Izetbegovic said he would call an urgent session of an inter-state council for cooperation between Bosnia and neighboring Croatia, to improve relations.

Diplomatic relations between Bosnia and Croatia have remained strained since the Muslim-Croat war of 1993, when Zagreb sponsored Bosnian Croats fighting Bosnian Muslims.

Izetbegovic has said he expects relations to improve after Croatia's center-left coalition won elections last month, defeating the HDZ party of late President Franjo Tudjman.

He stressed he was not satisfied with the pace of refugee returns in Bosnia. "The presidency must push for further measures aimed at more massive refugee returns," he said.

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