US VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN IN SARAJEVO
PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Bosnian parliament during his visit to Sarajevo May 19, 2009. Biden arrived in Bosnia on Tuesday hoping to bolster a country still plagued by instability and ethnic division 14 years after the end of the Srebrenica genocide - Europe's worst genocide since World War Two.
In September, Biden met with Rusmin Topalovic (view photo), president of the Association of Survivors of the Srebrenica Genocide in Saint Louis, and offered his wholehearted support to the survivors of the worst European carnage since World War II.
The Bosnian war claimed at least 100,000 lives and forced more than two million people to flee their homes as refugees. The 1995 Srebrenica genocide ended with 30,000 Bosniaks forcibly deported from the enclave in a mass scale ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs. In a matter of several days, Serbs summarily executed at least 8,372 Bosniaks, including at least 500 children, and dumped them into mass graves.
Biden has friendly relations with the Congress of North American Bosniaks (view photo), a highly effective organization that lobbies on behalf of Bosnia-Herzegovina and 350,000 Bosniaks living in the United States and Canada. In a photo provided by the Congress of North American Bosniaks, Mr. Biden shakes hands with the vice president Murat Muratovic.
Biden's strong advocacy for human rights helped bring about U.S. military assistance and intervention against well armed Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Biden consistently argued for lifting the arms embargo and training Bosnian government forces, so they could defend the country from Serbian aggression. He also argued for investigating war crimes and administering NATO air strikes.
Biden's subsequent "lift and strike" resolution was instrumental in convincing President Bill Clinton to use military force in the face of systemic human rights violations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Biden has called his role in affecting Balkans policy his "proudest moment in public life" that related to foreign policy.
In Sarajevo as the highest-level US official to visit Bosnia since President Bill Clinton in 1999, Biden issued a stern warning to parliamentarians representing the country's Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.
"Failure to do so will ensure you remain among the poorest countries in Europe. At worst, you'll descend into ethnic chaos that defined your country for the better part of a decade."
In a speech to Bosnia's ethnically mixed parliament, Biden pressed local leaders to agree on constitutional reforms that would bring progress and prosperity through Euro-Atlantic integration.
"The door is open for the countries of this region for the first time in history to be an integral part of a free Europe. The US will help you walk through that door," Biden told the deputies.
"My country is worried... about the direction your country, your future, the future of your children is taking," Biden told the Bosnian parliamentarians.
"For three years we have seen a sharp and dangerous rise in nationalist rhetoric... the very language that destroys states.
"The results are deepening distrust among communities and deadlock on reforms... This must stop! This must stop!" he stressed.
"The only real path is to join Europe as Bosnia-Hercegovina. Right now you are off that path. To get back to that path, you must work together across ethnic and party lines so that your country functions like a real country."
After more than three years of war, the United States brokered a peace agreement in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio. The deal preserved the country's international borders but divided it into two ministates — one for Bosnia's Christian Orthodox Serbs, the other to be shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.
After Bosnia and Herzegovina, Biden will visit Belgrade, Serbia, and then Pristina, Republic of Kosovo. During this trip, Biden is expected to spend a day in each country meeting top local and international officials. He will also address each country’s parliament.
In 1998, Congressional Quarterly named Biden one of "Twelve Who Made a Difference" for playing a lead role in several foreign policy matters, including NATO enlargement and the successful passage of bills to streamline foreign affairs agencies and punish religious persecution overseas.
PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden talks with Haris Silajdzic, member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's collective presidency before their meeting in Sarajevo May 19, 2009. Biden arrived in Bosnia on Tuesday hoping to bolster a country still plagued by instability and ethnic division 14 years after the genocide in Srebrenica. The 1995 Srebrenica genocide resulted in the ethnic cleansing of 30,000 Bosniaks, as well as summary executions of 8,372 people - including hundreds of children.
PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (3rd L), EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (2nd L) and Valetnin Inzko, the international peace envoy to Bosnia (L) meet members of Bosnia's collective presidency and other officials in Sarajevo early May 19, 2009. Biden arrived in Bosnia on Tuesday hoping to bolster a country still plagued by instability and ethnic division 14 years after the end of the Srebrenica genocide - Europe's worst genocide since the Holocaust.
PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Bosnian parliament during his visit to Sarajevo May 19, 2009. Biden arrived in Bosnia on Tuesday hoping to bolster a country still plagued by instability and ethnic division 14 years after the Srebrenica genocide - Europe's worst genocide since World War Two.
PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden prepares to board his plane prior to departure from Sarajevo International Airport, Wednesday May 20, 2009.