WASHINGTON/SARAJEVO, Jan 5 (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed fresh sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and current and former officials as Washington warned of further action against those linked to destabilization or corruption.
The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement accused Dodik, already subject to U.S. sanctions under a different authority, of corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Treasury also slapped sanctions on Banja Luka-based media outlet Alternativna Television (ATV), accusing Dodik of acquiring it to further his own agenda and exerting personal control over it.
ATV strongly condemned the U.S. sanctions as a direct strike on media freedoms and democracy and its management dismissed allegations about ties with Dodik as “senseless.”
“We are surprised with such a decision and regard as extremely trivial that a great state should take individual insinuations about ties between our media house and politicians as credible sources,” ATV said in a statement sent to Reuters.
The Treasury designations, which freeze any of Dodik and ATV’s U.S. assets and bar Americans from dealing with them, are the first use of an executive order issued in June allowing the United States to target those threatening peace or stability in the Western Balkans.
The U.S. State Department also barred current and former Bosnia and Herzegovina officials from entering the United States, targeting Milan Tegeltija, a former president of the high judicial council, and Mirsad Kukic, a lawmaker and president of the Movement for Democratic Action.
Tegeltija said in a tweet that the sanctions were not based on court proceedings so he did not feel he should defend himself, but were a “result of the politics which contains a brutal political pressure.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a separate statement warned of further action: “Other leaders and entities linked to corrupt or destabilizing actors may also be subject to future actions by the U.S. Government.”
Bosnia is experiencing its gravest political crisis since the end of the war in the 1990s, reviving fears of a breakup after Bosnian Serbs blocked the work of the central government and Serb lawmakers voted to start pulling the autonomous Serb Republic out of state institutions.
Dodik, who serves as the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, wants to roll back all reforms made after the war and return to the 1995 constitution under which the state was represented by basic institutions only while all powers had belonged to the regions.
“Milorad Dodik’s destabilizing corrupt activities and attempts to dismantle the Dayton Peace Accords, motivated by his own self-interest, threaten the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region,” Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in the statement.
The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995 ended 3-1/2 years of ethnic warfare in Bosnia. Some 100,000 people were killed in the conflict and 2 million forced from their homes.
Dodik said he was again being punished but did not know for what, telling Bosnian Serb news agency Srna the United States was accusing him of corruption despite the absence of any criminal proceeding against him. He added he has not brought into question constitutional order in Bosnia or its stability in any way.
“If they think they will discipline me in this way, they are very wrong. I have now only got a motive to fight for the rights that have been taken away from us for 26 years,” he said.
The international high representative in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt, said that the U.S. decision to impose sanctions on Dodik is “a logical consequence of the destructive and dangerous attitude in reference to his failure to meet the basic requirements of responsible leadership.”