Minister denies RS police will be trained by Russians

The Guardian writes on its website that "the purchase of thousands of new guns by the Bosnian Serb police has raised concerns."

Source: Beta
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(Getty Images, file, illustration purposes)
(Getty Images, file, illustration purposes)

These concerns have to do with the intentions of the authorities in the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Serb Republic (RS) - which the paper refers to as "the separatist-led regional government" - and also, with "deepening Russian influence."

Beta agency cited the article on Tuesday to say that "a shipment of 2,500 automatic rifles from Serbia is due to arrive in the Serb-run half of Bosnia in March, weeks before the scheduled opening of a new training center where Russian advisers are expected to play a role."

But RS Interior Minister Dragan Lukac said on Wednesday that police officers in the RS will continue to be trained by US and European instructors.

He denied information that Russian instructors would arrive to the police camp in Zaluzani near Banja Luka, Beta agency is reporting.

"It's not true that anyone from Russia is training our policemen, there are no Russians in Zaluzani nor anywhere else, nor will there be," Lukac told reporters in Banja Luka.

He stated that the RS Ministry of Interior received the consent of all competent institutions at the Bosnia-Herzegovina level for the procurement of 2,500 rifles, confirming that the procurement would cost USD 960,000.

The rifles will be purchased from Serbia's Zastava manufacturer, and delivered in March.

"The weapons are arriving at a time when Bosnia’s long-term stability is in doubt," the Guardian said on Tuesday, adding that the Dayton Agreement signed in 1995 to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina "divided the country into two semi-autonomous parts" - namely, the RS, and the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBiH)."

And while this "stopped the killing" - it created a system that rewarded "ethnically based politics," the British paper said.

Now "Serb civil society activists, the central Bosnian government in Sarajevo and western diplomats believe that a new heavily armed police unit will be used by the Bosnian Serb separatist leader, (RS President) Milorad Dodik, to entrench his position and intimidate opponents ahead of elections in October."

Russia, the article continued, strongly backs Dodik, referred to as "the Serb separatist" - and noted that Dodik and Russian President Vladimir Putin "met at least six times since 2014."

The newspaper also mentions Dodik's ties with Russia, and "Russian-trained members of a paramilitary group Serbian honor that appeared on the streets of Banja Luka."

Dodik confirmed the arms purchase, saying it was "a legitimate action," and that he would "take further steps to arm the police for 'the fight against terrorism'."

"Serb officials arguing for a heavily armed police counter-terrorist force point to a 2015 attack on a RS police station in Zvornik by a 24-year-old returned Bosnian Muslim refugee," the Guardian said, noting that Nerdin Ibric killed a Serb policeman and wounded two others before he was shot dead.

"But his motives were unclear," said the article.

"But because he reportedly shouted 'Allahu Akbar' it was deemed to be a terrorist attack (...) the incident has since been used to justify a build-up in police strength," the report said.

The RS Police Counter-Terrorism Training Center will open in Zaluzani, near Banja Luka in April, the Guardian continued, noting the existence of a 2015 cooperation agreement with Russia that envisages Russian specialists providing counter-terrorist training in the Serb entity.

The newspaper cites an unnamed Serb opposition activist as claiming that "Russian advisers had already arrived in the Banja Luka area, and both Zaluzani and a planned new cargo terminal at the local airport would eventually be used as a Russian-run 'humanitarian center'."

"A similar center in Nis in Serbia (Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center) is suspected by US authorities of providing a hub for Russian intelligence operations, such as an attempted coup in Montenegro in October 2016," the Guardian writes, and cites a Western diplomat in Bosnia as saying that there is "no hard evidence so far that Russians were establishing a similar hub in Bosnia" - but that they are "watching closely."

By drawing down a stabilization force to just 600 troops and giving up on a post-war initiative to integrate Bosnia's divided police forces the EU had left a vacuum that Russia is likely to fill, said Kurt Bassuener from the Democratization Policy Council.

“As long as the barriers to entry are non-existent, we are leaving the barn door open. It’s a screaming policy failure we haven’t paid for yet," he said.

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