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Bosnia is in danger of breaking up, warns EU’s top official in the state

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Bosnia

Bosnia is in danger of breaking up, warns EU’s top official in the state

The international community’s chief representative in Bosnia has warned that the country is in imminent danger of breaking apart, and there is a “very real” prospect of a return to conflict.

In a report to the UN, Christian Schmidt, the high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that if Serb separatists carry out their threat to recreate their own army, splitting the national armed forces in two, more international peacekeepers would have to be sent back in to stop the slide towards a new war.

International peacekeeping duties in Bosnia are currently the task of a residual EU force (Eufor) that is 700 strong. Nato retains a formal toehold with a headquarters in Sarajevo. The year-long mandate for both is up for renewal this week at the UN security council, but Russia has threatened to block a resolution unless all references to the high representative are removed, potentially undermining Schmidt’s authority as the overseer of the 1995 Dayton peace deal.

In his first report since taking up the post in August, Schmidt, a former German government minister, warned that Bosnia was facing “the greatest existential threat of the postwar period”.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, is threatening to pull out of state-level institutions, including the national army built up with international assistance over the past quarter century, and reconstitute a Serb force. On 14 October, Dodik said he would force the Bosnian army to withdraw from the Republika Srpska (the Serb half of Bosnia) by surrounding its barracks and that if the west tried to intervene militarily, he had “friends” who had promised to support the Serb cause, a presumed reference to Serbia and Russia.

Bosnian Serb police carried out “counter-terrorist” exercises last month on Mount Jahorina, from where Serb forces bombarded Sarajevo throughout a 1992-95 siege.

“This is tantamount to secession without proclaiming it,” Schmidt wrote in a report delivered to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, on Friday. He said Dodik’s actions “endanger not only the peace and stability of the country and the region, but – if unanswered by the international community – could lead to the undoing of the [Dayton peace] agreement itself.”

The high representative said it was possible there would be clashes between Bosnian national law enforcement agencies and Bosnian Serb police.

“Should the armed force of BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] splinter into two or more armies, the level of international military presence would require reassessment,” Schmidt warned.

“A lack of response to the current situation would endanger the [Dayton agreement], while instability in BiH would have wider regional implications,” he said. “The prospects for further division and conflict are very real.”

Schmidt’s warnings were delivered as the UN security council was preparing its annual resolution renewing the peacekeeping mandate for Eufor and the Nato headquarters, with a vote as early as Wednesday. Moscow is threatening to block the resolution unless all references to the high representative are removed.

The Kremlin opposed Schmidt’s appointment by a Peace Implication Council, an ad hoc multinational body set up to implement the Dayton peace agreement, and refuses to recognise his authority.

“I suspect what Russia really wants is to chip away at the authority of the high representative’s office by stopping him briefing the council,” said a diplomat close to the discussions.

Kurt Bassuener, co-founder and senior associate of the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin-based thinktank, said: “It sounds like the Americans, the Brits and the French have effectively agreed to really strip back the references to the high representative that were boilerplate, standard issue language in all the previous resolutions.” He added: “And while legally that doesn’t undercut the high representative, politically it sure as hell does.”

Even if Eufor’s mandate is renewed, there is little appetite in the EU to beef up the small force left in Bosnia. Some member states, particularly Hungary, are supportive of Dodik.

“I think he’s willing to gamble on the possibility that, as improbable as it is, he can get away with it by essentially creating new facts on the ground rapidly and counting on the idea that confusion and delay would grip both Sarajevo and the international community and there would ultimately be no meaningful international consequences,” Jasmin Mujanović, a Bosnian political scientist, said.

US deputy assistant secretary of state Gabriel Escobar told Congress last week that the US is working with the EU to “make sure there are consequences for any illegal or any destabilising actions” in Bosnia. But it is unclear whether the Biden administration would support a return to Nato peacekeeping.

Alida Vračić, the head of a Bosnia-based thinktank, Populari, said the perpetual and worsening sense of crisis allows the country’s leaders to disguise their failure to govern.

“Dodik has gone ballistic, but collectively politicians hope to win points on this crisis and citizens are the only losers as expected,” Vračić said.

“This discussion comes in handy, as it derails all meaningful discussions like the fact that Sarajevo is choking in smog, that [the regional governments] embezzled money in the Covid-19 crisis, that the death toll in Sarajevo is worse than during the war, the fact that half of the country is living in poverty, that we have completed exactly zero reforms, that no laws have been discussed in the parliament for months.”

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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