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Bosnia property row key to EU future escalates

SARAJEVO: Bosnia's international peace overseer suspended a disputed Serb Republic property law on Wednesday, Jan 5 until the top state court rules on whether a region and not the national government can take over state property.

Bosnia remains an international protectorate, divided largely along ethnic lines, 15 years after Europe's worst fighting since World War II ended.

Resolving the row over who owns schools, barracks, museums and other state property is a key condition for ending the protectorate and enabling Bosnia to apply for European Union membership and take a further step towards joining North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).

With the ruling that the constitutional court must decide on the issue, international envoy Valentin Inzko, who has power to suspend laws in the Balkan state, is set to exacerbate relations with Bosnian Serb leaders.

"Today's order prevents the legal uncertainty that would follow any act which would change the ownership over these properties before the constitutional court has rendered its final decision," a statement from Inzko's office said.

Inzko had warned that the legislation would delay progress towards EU and Nato membership by blocking key requirements for the closure of the postwar international protectorate in Bosnia.

The Serb Republic's regional parliament defied his warning by passing a law in September allocating state property to the regional rather than the national government.

It took effect last week, prompting a Bosnian Muslim leader to file a complaint at the constitutional court on Tuesday.

The Bosnian Serbs have repeatedly disputed Inzko's powers to impose laws and fire obstructive officials in his capacity as international high representative, installed to oversee peace after the 1992-95 war that split Bosnia into the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation.

"The High Representative has no right to suspend a law...," said Rajko Vasic, executive secretary of the Bosnian Serb ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, denying the authority of the constitutional court over the issue.

"We can interpret this only as yet another provocation by the High Representative."

In 2005, one of Inzko's predecessors banned the disposal of state property until a national consensus was found.

Bosnian Serbs insist all state property in their territory belongs to the Serb Republic, while Bosnian Muslims and Croats see the national government as its only owner. — Reuters
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