World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had talks with Bosnian Serb officials during a key visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serb region to back Bosnia's unity and stability, but a row over which flags should decorate the meeting venues has highlighted difficulties standing in the way of political reconciliation in the Balkan country.
Davutoğlu met with the political leaders of the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs and Croats on Saturday in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka, emphasizing in his talks that the region needs the coexistence of the three groups in Bosnia as this is the "backbone of stability in the Balkans." Disputes among Bosnia and Herzegovina's ethnic and religious groups have prevented them from agreeing on a government since elections in October.
Davutoğlu met with Milorad Dodik, president of the Serb entity Republika Srpska, during his first-ever visit to Banja Luka, the administrative capital of the Serb region. But the meeting ended in a mini crisis when the Turkish diplomats realized that there was only a Serb flag in the hall where Davutoğlu and Dodik were due to address the press after their talks.
Serb officials initially rejected requests from Turkish diplomats to bring Turkish and Bosnian flags into the room, but they agreed to do so when Davutoğlu, still in the meeting with Dodik, was informed about the dispute, following which he told Dodik that the press conference could not take place under such circumstances.
But there were warm messages during the press conference, where Dodik talked of the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Davutoğlu promised to visit Banja Luka again in the future. Officials said Dodik then invited Davutoğlu to Banja Luka for a conference, an invitation that Davutoğlu accepted.
But the flag row did not subside after the press conference. A scheduled meeting between Davutoğlu and Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, after Davutoğlu's staff demanded that the Bosnian Serb flag should be removed from the meeting venue.
“We believe that such a move on the part of Turkey is unacceptable behavior and a diplomatic incident that will surely have consequences,” a statement released by Radmanovic's office carried by the Reuters news agency said. The Anatolia news agency, however, made no mention of any protocol dispute with Radmanovic, saying the meeting did not take place because talks with Dodik took “longer than expected."
"Ambitions for more autonomy"
Turkey, which once controlled the Balkans, supported Bosnia's Muslims during their 1992-95 war, with Bosnian Serbs, which, witnessed one of Europe's worst genocides. Those Serbs are now wary of what they see as an increasingly visible Turkish role in the region.
Last summer Dodik accused Turkey in an interview of interfering in Bosnian internal political affairs and of acting in favor of Bosnian Muslims.
“We resent the fact that Turkey wants a unified and centralized Bosnia, favoring only one of the peoples [living in the country],” the Serb leader said in the interview.
Serbs in Bosnia control 49 percent of Bosnian territory and constantly seek more autonomy. They adamantly oppose the centralization of the country. Turkey has repeatedly stated its support for Bosnia's territorial integrity.
“As the international community we need to be in solidarity with different groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a short period of time, the government will be formed and Bosnia and Herzegovina will embrace political stability, economic prosperity and will not only be a shining star of Europe but of the entire world,” Davutoğlu told reporters.
Bosnia is still overseen by an international envoy and EU-led peacekeepers following the end of the war in 1995.
October elections produced a deadlock in the formation of a national government and of a government for the Muslim-Croat Federation.
Flag row mars Turkish FM's visit to Serb region of Bosnia
AA row over which flags should decorate the meeting venues has highlighted difficulties standing in the way of political reconciliation in the Balkan country.