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West's indifference could condemn Bosnia anew

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A lack of U.S. and European interest in Bosnia may embolden Serb and Croat separatist plans and result in the eventual disintegration of the fragile Balkan country, a former U.S. diplomat said.

"The United States doesn't care anymore, the whole attitude is that it's a European problem and Europeans should handle it," said William Stuebner, who held several diplomatic posts in Bosnia during and after the 1992-95 war, Europe's deadliest conflict since World War Two.

"Well, when the last time you ever saw Europeans handle any big problem? So consequently, if these guys would dismantle Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is no one to stop them, there is no one to check that," Stuebner said in an interview.

He spoke after the Sarajevo-based magazine Dani published the first chapter of his Bosnia memories, "A Dragon Sleeps."

Ethnically divided Bosnia has been in a political deadlock for years because of the bickering of its Serb, Croat and Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) elites. The country still does not have a national government 10 months after October's election because of the ethnic disputes.

The U.S.-sponsored Dayton peace agreement ended the war dividing the country into two rival autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic, joined in an uneasy co-existence under a weak central government.

"The Dayton agreement was a deal with the devil," said Stuebner, a former Pentagon official who first came to Bosnia early in the war to help set up an airlift of humanitarian aid to the citizens of besieged Sarajevo.

The Bosnian capital endured modern history's longest siege, 43 months long, under Bosnian Serb attack. At least 100,000 people were killed during the war.

"The Dayton agreement legitimized and enshrined ethnic politics, something that violated our most sacred principles and something that we in the United States would never accept in our own system," Stuebner said.

SEARCH FOR TRUTH

The Serb and Croat nationalists aspire to formally divide Bosnia into three ethnically based entities but the move is strongly opposed by Bosniaks, who suffered the most casualties during the war.

The Bosnian Serbs, who have often threatened secession of their region from Bosnia, are blocking in parliament key laws needed for Bosnia's Euro-Atlantic integration and international financial aid.

Analysts see the move and their initiative for the demarcation of boundaries between the two regions, which are now invisible, as part of preparations for secession.

The Bosniaks hope the international community, which has been strongly involved in rebuilding of Bosnia after the war, will intervene to keep the country together. The Bosnian Serbs rely on strong support from Russia and Serbia.

"Ultimately, if the country really splits, I don't think anyone, especially the European Union, is going to step in strongly enough to keep Bosnia-Herzegovina," Stuebner said.

Stuebner, who fears that Bosnia may disintegrate in few years unless its ethnic based set up is changed, sees the only solution as revealing the truth about the war.

His book will be published chapter-by-chapter each month and be open for reader feedback.

"I think the greatest danger for the future is the fact that the different versions of the history are being created," he said. "There's so much that went on, so much confusion and so much mythology that have to be a way to cut through that."

Stuebner acknowledges the process to bring the truth and reconciliation will take a long time: "It's not going to be easy and it's going to be generational. We have to end this collective madness."

(Editing by Adam Tanner and Alison Williams)

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