A day after Bosnia's international administrator asked the government of the Serb-majority region, Republika Srpska (RS), not to establish an additional police unit, the RS Prime Minister said on Thursday additional officers will provide peace and stability and deal with the migrants that are flooding the country.
Radovan Viskovic said also that the other region in Bosnia, the Federation (FBiH), should also form an additional unit.
The National Assembly of Republika Srpska, one of the two semi-autonomous entities in the country, recently adopted a draft of law changes which would introduce an auxiliary police unit in the entity.
When RS Interior Minister, Dragan Lukac, announced the initiative, he said that the new police unit should be composed of about 1,000 officers to be summoned only when necessary. They would have the same competencies as active police officers. The unit would respond to safety challenges such as the migrant crisis, natural disasters or other situations where citizens need help, he said.
But Bosniak political leaders expressed fear that the new RS unit is part of a “militarisation” that would serve the political purposes of the RS leadership. They also said that forming such a unit would be contrary to the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, as it would breach an article that says military capabilities of the two entities must be balanced.
A number of political parties in the FBiH said they would support an initiative to form such a unit in in their entity as well to maintain that balance.
The issue has on Thursday prompted a reaction by the High Representative, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko whom the international community tasked with overseeing the civilian implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement which ended Bosnia’s war.
“The current political discourse related to reserve police forces in the entities, which started with the unilateral step taken by the RS on this issue, does not contribute to peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the Office of the High Representative (OHR) said in a statement.
Urging RS authorities to refrain from establishing the unit, it also said that the initiative has “generated a negative spiral of mistrust and competition, and even fear” and that it "undermines stability by creating tensions and divisions in the country, that are ultimately of no benefit to the citizens.”
Furthermore, the Office estimated that “there is no convincing reason” to unilaterally establish such units, as “immigration, refugee and asylum policy are the constitutional responsibility of state institutions and their capacity should be reinforced.”
But RS Prime Minister Radovan Viskovic thinks otherwise.
“Nearly all officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, even the Security Minister, Dragan Mektic, are saying that the Border Police can currently not completely secure Bosnia’s borders,” he said, adding that a number of police officers from the RS are currently engaged in securing them.
“It is a fact that this is not enough as migrants enter and transit through Bosnia and Herzegovina daily,” he said.
Viskovic also argued that FBiH and the ten Cantons within it should do the same instead of criticising the RS.
The forming of the auxiliary unit is not meant as a threat to anyone, but as a contribution to the security of all citizens, he insisted.
But he also said that the details around the forming of the unit have not been decided on yet.
“We have not definitely decided on the number of people it will consist of in full capacity, nor have we planned any funds for it in the budget,” he said.
When needed, an auxiliary unit could provide a lot more officers to the Border Police to help protect the border than currently, he said, adding that this is also the practice in European countries.
“Maybe there are dangerous persons in terms of security and terrorists among the migrants and everyone needs to understand that there must be more people securing the borders,” he said.
He named the example of the northeastern town of Bihac, one of the areas in the country most affected by the migrant crisis.
Viskovic said that local police there cannot cope with the situation and that the RS Government has helped them before.