The U.N. Security Council extended the European Union peacekeeping force in Bosnia for a year on Monday, and welcomed the Balkan nation's progress toward EU membership 10 years after a peace agreement ended a bitterly divisive 3 1/2-year war.
A resolution adopted unanimously by the council also extended the mandate of the NATO headquarters staff in Bosnia which is assisting the EU's 6,500-strong peacekeeping mission.
The council voted hours after EU foreign ministers authorized the start of negotiations on an agreement to prepare Bosnia for EU membership. The EU said negotiations on the "stabilization and association agreement" would start Friday in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
The EU and U.N. actions came a decade after Bosnia was ravaged by Europe's worst fighting since World War II. Ceremonies are scheduled in Washington on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, that ended Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.
More than 60,000 NATO-led troops from over 40 countries were deployed to Bosnia in late 1995 to enforce the Dayton agreement, which ended the war among the country's Serbs, Muslims and Croats. The conflict killed 260,000 people and turned 1.8 million into refugees.
Security has improved over the years, allowing the NATO-led force to transfer peacekeeping duties last Dec. 2 to a new European Union Force, known as EUFOR.
Monday's resolution authorizes EUFOR to continue "the main peace stabilization role" in Bosnia, along with the NATO headquarters. It gives both military organizations the right "to take all necessary measures" to implement the Dayton agreement and defend themselves.
The resolution paid tribute to the achievements of the Bosnian state government, the separate Muslim-Croat and Serb entities, and the international community in the 10 years since the Dayton agreement, but said the peace accord has still not been completely implemented.
It welcomed "the tangible signs of Bosnia and Herzegovina's progress towards the European Union, and in particular, the decision by the European Union to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina on a Stabilization and Association Agreement."
It called on Bosnian authorities to fully implement that agreement, including police reform.
The council stressed that the Bosnian government bears primary responsibility for making the peace agreement a success.
It reminded Bosnians of their commitment to cooperate with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia by handing over all those indicted for war crimes and assisting its investigations.
Bosnia's two most wanted fugitive suspects are wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic, both charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.
The resolution also emphasized "that a comprehensive and coordinated return of refugees and displaced persons throughout the region continues to be crucial to lasting peace."
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov, the current council president, said that on the 10th anniversary of the Dayton agreement "we want to ensure the continuation of the process of the general positive development in the area."
He stressed that Bosnia still has problems and can't be considered "a success story" yet, though he said "the general trend is encouraging.", AP reported. V.A.