Brcko Arbitration: Proposal For Peace
Brcko Arbitration: Proposal For Peace
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 18 / Europe & Central Asia

Brcko Arbitration: Proposal For Peace

The Dayton Peace Agreement postponed a decision on the fate of the Brcko area, one of the peace talks’ most contentious and potentially explosive issues, until arbitration could take place. A decision is expected by 15 February.

Executive Summary

The Dayton Peace Agreement postponed a decision on the fate of the Brcko area, one of the peace talks’ most contentious and potentially explosive issues, until arbitration could take place.  A decision is expected by 15 February.

The arbitration award could have serious consequences.  If Brcko were awarded to the Federation, Bosnian Serbs may lose faith in the DPA, strengthening hard-liners and potentially causing tens of thousands of refugees from western Republika Srpska to flee.  If Brcko were awarded to Republika Srpska, heightened tension and brinkmanship would result in the short term, and renewed armed conflict in the long term.

As a contribution to the arbitration process and in order to address the goals, needs and fears of all sides, thus preserving the precarious peace, the International Crisis Group offers the following recommendations:

  • The arbitration panel must determine the final status of the municipality from the outset.  At the same time, the panel must retain jurisdiction over the matter for at least five years, during which time, the parties to the dispute should have the right to appeal to the panel in cases of egregious violations.  This could be a potent, yet passive and economical measure to enforce the decision.
     
  • The area subject to arbitration must include the entire pre-war Brcko municipality.
     
  • For an interim period of 18 months, an international governorship must be established.  The main tasks for this period must be the return of internally displaced persons and refugees, the reconstruction of housing and infrastructures to support the returns, security for the returnees as well as for those remaining, and complete and permanent demilitarisation of the municipality.
     
  • The international governorship will require a robust security mechanism to be ensured by SFOR contingents for the duration of their current mandate.  A clear chain of command between the Governor and the local SFOR commander will need to be articulated. 
     
  • Civil policing is a vital issue.  An international police force must be attached to the Brcko governorship drawing on lessons learned in Mostar.  Local police must be recruited to assist the international police contingent.
     
  • The Brcko municipality must otherwise become a completely demilitarised zone.  Neither the Federation nor Republika Srpska should be allowed to station troops or military equipment in the zone.  However, both could have transit rights along designated routes.
     
  • From its inception, the international governorship must concentrate on ensuring the return of all displaced persons and refugees by the end of its mandate and before the withdrawal of international forces.  Such a return cannot be organised without taking into account the needs of the new Serb settlers.  A majority of the Serb settlers are former residents of the Sarajevo suburbs; they must be encouraged to return to their original homes.  The remaining settlers must be provided with new homes in the Brcko municipality.
     
  • The Brcko municipality must be transformed into a customs or duty-free zone, thus encouraging trade from Croatia, Serbia, Republika Srpska, and the Federation.  At the same time, international assistance programmes must be developed immediately.  With time, the profit motive will make in-roads into the exclusive nationalist agenda which has caused widespread destruction and impoverishment.
     
  • After the initial 18-month period of international governorship, the Brcko municipality must be handed over to the common institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina for permanent administration.
     
  • When the administration of the municipality is handed over to the common institutions, a further international armed forces presence must be considered.  Such a force could be provided by NATO with military contingents from European states or a purely European ad hoc structure could be created for this purpose.  This force should remain in Brcko municipality for a transitional period of 18 months and be phased out gradually.  During the same period, the presence of an international police force would similarly be phased out. 

For two years subsequent to the withdrawal of all international military forces from the municipality, the common institutions administration of Brcko would still benefit from the arbitration panel’s jurisdiction over the area and the threat of sanction or additional awards.  By the end of that period, displaced persons would have returned and reintegrated, the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure be completed, economic interests and confidence among the three communities taken root, and the threat of any resumption of hostilities disappeared.

Sarajevo, 20 January 1997

Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec about the precarious situation in the Western Balkans, as Serb separatism in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the frozen Kosovo-Serbia dispute continue to stoke regional instability.

The Western Balkans, a region defined in part by not being in the European Union, also contains several countries that were devastated by war in the 1990s. Now it faces new troubles, driven in part by the legacies of the old. Bosnia and Herzegovina is confronted with calls for secession in the autonomous Serb-dominated region, Republika Srpska, as well as the ongoing electoral grievances of its Croat minority. Meanwhile, efforts to resolve Kosovo’s dispute with Serbia over its independence have come to a standstill, leaving minority communities on both sides of the border vulnerable.

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker talks to Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Consulting Senior Analyst for the Balkans, about why ethnic tensions persist in the region and whether there is any risk of a return to conflict. They discuss the prospects for European integration, asking whether the promise of EU membership remains an effective incentive for resolving these longstanding disputes. They also consider what impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had for stability in the Western Balkans, a region where painful memories of war are still very salient today.



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For more of Crisis Group’s analysis, make sure to check out our Balkans regional page and keep an eye out for our upcoming report on the risk of instability in the Western Balkans.

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