Joint military exercise of Bosnian and Serbian armed forces scheduled for October was postponed due to epidemiological reasons, Bosnian Defence Minister Sifet Podzic told N1, denying the allegations that the exercise has been cancelled.
“I made the decision after seeing that Serbia has been recording the increasing number of the infected, today there were over 7,000 infected with the coronavirus. Also, in Bosnia and Herzegovina there has been an increase in the number of the infected and a very small number of our soldiers have been immunised,” said the minister speaking in N1’s Pressing hard-talk show, adding that some 19 percent of Bosnian soldiers have been vaccinated so far.
The information about the exercise not taking place on the set date sparked strong reactions, particularly by Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency Milorad Dodik, who asked for Podzic’s removal over what he called “non-compliance with the Constitution of BiH”. Dodik also said that the Presidency is the institution in charge of the country’s foreign policy.
On Tuesday, the Chairman of Bosnia’s Council of Ministers Zoran Tegeltija officially filed a request for Podzic’s dismissal.
“I was deeply disappointed yesterday by Tegeltija’s letter, given the fact that I said my decision I was postponing the exercise with Serbia, not cancelling it. I saw some media carried I decided to cancel it. I know my competencies and what am I allowed to do. There are still three months of 2021 left and I hope the situation will get better so we can carry out the exercise by the end of the year,” he explained.
The minister said he talked to his Serbian counterpart Nebojsa Stefanovic and thanked him for a fair statement that he issued on this matter,
“We got used to Presidency member Dodik, who can do anything he likes and nobody will react, so you could see him threatening with criminal charges, (saying) that I am violating the Presidency’s decisions; I never did that, I just did what I did based on the expert’s proposal – postponed the exercise primarily for the safety reasons,” he underlined.
Asked if Bosnia and Herzegovina will enter the “arms race” in the region, the minister said this would go rather slow considering the blockades and political developments in the country. However, he disagreed it was an arms race since none of Bosnia’s neighbours, Croatia or Serbia, exceeded the quota from valid agreements.
In case of external threats, Podzic stressed, the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina are capable and would defend this country. Also, he added, there are “external forces” that would help in that, referring to NATO and EU military mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s NATO road, the minister said that “with this pace” the country might join in about ten years, regardless of the opposition of institutions in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska-
“That’s a decision of the RS National Assembly which is not valid. All important state institutions passed decision on our membership and that has never changed,” he added.