2 JUNE 2001, Page 30

Bosnia's plight

From Dr D. Chandler Sir: The High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch (Letters, 19 May) is rather too self-deprecating when he suggests he has 'neither the power nor the inclination' to establish a protectorate. He admits to imposing laws, but disingenuously adds that he ensures that these laws are discussed and formally ratified by elected bodies. Keen to provide the context for his recent actions, he strangely forgets to mention that his laws cannot be amended by elected bodies and that a refusal to ratify his edicts can result in the dismissal of elected representatives for obstructionist behaviour.

The High Representative is unwilling to admit to protectorate powers not out of modesty but out of a reluctance to be held accountable for the failure of international rule in Bosnia. The breakdown of relations with the Bosnian-Croat community, which led to the bizarre bank-raid described in John Laughland's article ('UN tyranny in Bosnia', 5 May), is just one example of the problem with his high-handed international rule.

Two weeks before the elections, the international appointee who makes the election rules decided to implement changes to the constitution which weakened the influence of the main BosnianCroat party. This major constitutional change was not discussed with Bosnian representatives and, because it was imposed by international edict, could not be challenged by the Constitutional Court. This ad hoc approach to international decision-making, coupled with the exclusion of the Bosnian people and their representatives from any say in the political process, resulted in calls for greater autonomy and led to the breakdown of relations with the international community.

The High Representative is right to suggest that the only sustainable peace in Bosnia will be one in which there is Bosnian ownership of the political process. With this in mind, he could start by taking some responsibility for his own actions, which have given added salience to ethnic divisions in Bosnia. His policy of attempting to engineer support for his plans by marginalising the major parties and dismissing popular politicians has undermined Bosnia's multiethnic political institutions rather than strengthened them.

Dr David Chandler

Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds