This week, at the British Embassy in Sarajevo, a memorial was unveiled to the 59 British personnel who lost their lives in the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s.
Their sacrifice is a reminder of the strength of the UK’s commitment to a stable and secure Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the impact that conflict in the region has had on the UK.
The memorial was unveiled by a company of Irish Guards who are currently training in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, underlining how the UK’s commitment continues to this day.
In the 18 years since the end of the conflict, Bosnia and Herzegovina has come a long way. The Irish Guards are training this month with the multi-ethnic Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina; the existence of which many would have thought unthinkable two decades ago.
The recent apology made by Serbia’s President Nikolić for the crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the conflict is similarly positive; a welcome example of a leader moving beyond the nationalism of the past and recognising the need for reconciliation.
Despite this, the risk of instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet disappeared.
Political tensions, an unwillingness to compromise on the implementation of the reforms necessary for EU and NATO membership and the underlying economic situation remain of concern. These mounting political challenges, if not resolved, could lead to instability. This is something that we cannot afford to ignore; particularly since Bosnia and Herzegovina will share one of the longest land borders with the EU once Croatia joins on 1 July.
The UK troop deployment this month demonstrates both our willingness and our ability to safeguard against any challenge to peace and security. Our other work in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as efforts to tackle the legacy of the genocide in Srebrenica and programmes aimed at assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina with the most challenging aspects of the EU accession process, also show our commitment to helping people in the country move forward.
But we can’t do this for Bosnia without the political leaders playing their part. The time has now come for Bosnian leaders to take the steps needed for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward and escape the shackles of the past.