US imposes sanctions against Bosnian Serb leader Dodik

Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency Milorad Dodik, left, and President of Republika Srpska Zeljka Cvijanovic arrive at the parliament session in Banja Luka, Bosnia, Friday, Dec. 10, 2021. The Bosnian Serb parliament convened on Friday to vote on a set of steps that would weaken the war-ravaged Balkan country’s central authority as their leader steps up his secession campaign despite a threat of new U.S. and other sanctions. (AP Photo/Radivoje Pavicic)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced sanctions Wednesday against Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, accusing him of “corrupt activities” that threaten to destabilize the region and undermine a U.S.-brokered peace accord from more than 25 years ago.

The Treasury Department also alleged that Dodik has used his leadership position to accumulate wealth through graft and bribery, including by providing government contracts and monopolies to business associates.

The practical impact of the Biden administration’s actions is that any property or interest belonging to Dodik in the United States is now blocked and must be reported. Also Wednesday, the State Department accused one current and one former senior Bosnia and Herzegovina official of corruption, designations that prevent them from entering the U.S.

“Together, these designations reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH, the rule of law and democratic institutions, and a better future for BiH’s citizens,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, using the abbreviation for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dodik, a member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency that also includes a Bosniak and a Croat official, has for years been advocating the separation of the Bosnian Serb semi-autonomous mini-state from Bosnia and having it become part of neighboring Serbia.

That what would be a breach of the Dayton Accords, the 1995 U.S.-sponsored peace agreement that ended Bosnia’s bloody civil war, which killed more than 100,000 people and left millions homeless in the worst carnage in Europe since World War II. The agreement established two separate governing entities in Bosnia — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs and the other dominated by the country’s Bosniaks and Croats.

The two entities are linked by joint institutions, and all actions taken at a national level have to be reached by consensus of the three ethnic groups.

With tacit support from Russia and Serbia, Dodik recently intensified his secessionist campaign, pledging to separate from Bosnia’s loose central authority and form a Bosnian Serb army, judiciary and tax system.

Bosniak officials have warned that Dodik’s policies could lead to clashes and called on the U.S. and the EU to crack down against him and his associates.

The United States has already imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on Dodik, and both American and German officials have recently threatened more sanctions in case Bosnian Serbs further weaken Bosnia’s central institutions.

Dodik has repeatedly said he doesn’t care about new sanctions, adding that this would bring Serbs even closer to their “true friends” — Russia and China. He has also denied that withdrawal from the central institutions is contrary to the Dayton peace agreement and would lead to a quick secession or a new war.

Anticipating new sanctions, Dodik said Wednesday he was not worried as he won’t be traveling to the U.S. any time soon.

“These are their sanctions, not ours. They are not the Holy Scripture,” Dodik said. “I do not intend to apply for a visa for America even if my sanctions are lifted tomorrow.”

The chief international representative in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, said in a written statement Wednesday that the new U.S. sanctions against Dodik were “a logical consequence of the destructive and dangerous attitude in reference to his failure to meet the basic requirements of responsible leadership.”

Schmidt added that Dodik “has to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions and should return to reasonable and accountable actions without violating the State Constitution and the rule of law.”

The U.S. also designated a media outlet, Alternativna Televizija d.o.o. Banja Luka, which it said is owned by a company linked to Dodik’s family. The administration says Dodik acquired the organization to advance his own agenda and exerts behind-the-scenes control over its content, including by mandating approval of politically sensitive stories.

The two other officials designated by the State Department are Milan Tegeltija, the former head of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, which appoints, dismisses and oversees the work of all the country’s judges and prosecutors, and Parliamentary Assembly Representative Mirsad Kukic.

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Stojanovic reported from Belgrade, Serbia. Sabrina Niksic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.

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