Budapest-Sarajevo Service Starts in April

Direct commercial flights between Sarajevo and Budapest will be launched on April 5, the transport ministry said. Conditions for relaunching the flights were created on Thursday in Sarajevo where Bosnia and Hungary signed a memorandum of understanding, the ministry said in a statement following the event. The document was signed with the aim of strengthening trade and economic cooperation between the two countries, as well as boosting political and cultural relations, the ministry said.

In December, Hungarian low-cost carrier WizzAir said it will launch its first flight from Sarajevo to Budapest on April 5. The route will be serviced twice a week and represents the company’s expansion in Bosnia.

Border Police Say More Refugees Try to Reach EU through Bosnia

According to the Bosnian Border Police, the number of Mideastern refugees trying to reach the European Union by traveling through Bosnia is on the rise this year. Harsh conditions in the countries of the region make them attempt crossing illegally the border with Serbia and Montenegro.

In January, the police detained five Syrians, two Afghans and two Iraqis who crossed the border illegally. In February, however, nine groups of refugees were detained – 13 Pakistanis, five Afghans, three Syrians, two Algerians, Iraqi, one Iranian and one Palestinian. On 25 February , the Borer Police in northern town of Bijeljina detained two groups of refugees near the Rača border crossing.

“The latest cases in February indicate that migrants from countries of high migration risk (travel) individually or in small groups and try to use the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a transit route on their way to EU countries,” said the Border Police spokesperson.

The detained refugees who came from Serbia are handed over to the expat affairs service for readmission, according to an agreement signed with Serbia. Director of the service Slobodan Ujić told Klix.ba that they were not sent to Serbia yet as the process is slow due to the fact that most of them have no documents .

“They need to be interviewed. It is a challenging process because it needs to be done in several different languages and we do not have enough interpreters. When that is done, the collected evidence will be used to initiate readmission according to the agreement with Serbia. They (refugees) took advantage of severe weather and crossed the border (at Raca), and then they were spotted by our border patrol. They split into two groups before the chase began, and they managed to run for some 500-600 meters. It all happened in the border area. With this evidence and (the evidence from) interviews, we think that the readmission agreement with Serbia be respected,” said Ujić.

Reporters Ask Elected Officials to Disclose Tax Details

Investigative reporters in twenty countries came together to ask their elected representatives to fully disclose their sources of income and their tax payments. Reporters of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo said they will first ask 57 state MPs to disclose their tax returns.

“It is extremely important for the public to learn where politicians made their money and whether they paid taxes on those sums. They are elected by taxpayers who pay them and have a right to know whether their elected representatives respect the laws that they themselves have enacted,” said CIN’s deputy editor Mirjana Popović.

In the first phase of the project, the journalists used a web-platform to simultaneously send emails to around 7,000 politicians in 20 countries. The public will be able to see emails sent to politicians and their replies. The organizers hope that the results will draw other countries to take part. The campaign is coordinated by Finance Uncovered, a London-based media organization with focus on corruption, tax abuse and money laundering.

The idea for the project was championed by a Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema who five years ago asked 446 politicians in his country to disclose these records to the public. Only two complied, but Cheema did not give up and he tracked down the tax numbers of others via the election commission. With the help of whistleblowers who helped him track down the records, Cheema uncovered that around 70 percent of Pakistani MPs did not pay taxes, including the president of the state and 34 ministers. Thanks to his investigation, today every politician in Pakistan makes his or her tax data public.

“The journalist’s duty is to remind politicians that they are accountable to the public. Financial integrity of politicians is very important – without it they defend only the interests of the rich. This campaign will return to them what they have lost – the citizens’ trust “, said Cheema.

Countries whose investigative reporters are sending requests to their politicians to disclose their tax returns are Argentina, Armenia, Bosnia, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Hungary, India, Kenya, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Venezuela, Uganda, Russia, the United Kingdom and Ukraine.

Presidency Members Will Respond Individually to ICJ Query

Three members in the state presidency had an informal meeting to discus the copies of a letter they received from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, regarding the revision of the 2007 ruling in the Bosnia vs. Serbia genocide case. They agreed to send individual responses to the Court, instead of one on behalf of the Presidency.

The ICJ sent letters to three members in the presidency this week, seeking clarification of the status of Bosnia’s agent, Sakib Softić, who filed a request for the revision. In July last year, the Serb member in the presidency Mladen Ivanić wrote to the Court and challenged Softić’s legitimacy to represent Bosnia. The presidency members have until 6 pm, March 2 to clarify Softić’s status.

Deadly Bird Flu Strain Confirmed in Sarajevo Zoo

 

The national Veterinary Office said that lab results confirmed a high-mortality type of bird flu in Sarajevo zoo’s birds. The virus was earlier confirmed in poultry in the northern Prijedor region. The Office urged poultry farmers in Sarajevo area to toughen prevention measures on their farms and reduce contact between the wild and domesticated birds.

According to the media, bird flu was diagnosed in swans in Sarajevo zoo.

“The Joint Center for Disease Control will continue coordinating activities to implement the measures in accordance with the legislation in force,” said the Veterinary Office.

EU Diplomacy Chief Expected on Thursday

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission will visit Bosnia  on Thursday, 2 March. Federica Mogherini will meet with the members of the state Presidency and then address students from 8 public universities in Bosnia. Mogherini will also meet the chair of the Council of Ministers, his two deputies and the foreign minister.

The likely topic of Mogherini’s conversations with the Republika Srpska officials will be the cooperation issues in the preparation of joint answers to the EU questionnaire, the key document that is to guide the country’s future integration process.

Commenting ahead of her visit to the Western Balkans, Mogherini said: “For the European Union the work with the Western Balkans, a region in the heart of Europe, is a key priority. (…) I work to see every single one of the Western Balkans partners move forward on the reform path, towards the European Union, to ensure the process is irreversible. Regional cooperation and good neighborly relations remain essential in this context.”

End Segregation in Schools, Rights Body Tells Bosnia

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance published its third report on Bosnia and Herzegovina in which it analyses recent developments and outstanding issues and makes recommendations to the authorities. The report welcomes that political representatives are now usually quick to condemn attacks against returnees when such incidents occur. It also notes positively that the strategy for the implementation of Annex VII of the Dayton Peace Agreement on the rights of returnees has been revised, focusing on support for housing, infrastructure and employment.

In order to reduce the levels of inter-ethnic discrimination and hate crimes that the country is still suffering from, the authorities have provided training on the application of the anti-discrimination Law and on combating hate crime to judges, prosecutors and police officers. The report also mentions measures taken to resolve problems of discrimination on ethnic grounds in the area of pension entitlements, to facilitate access to identity documents for members of the Roma community and to support the enrollment of more Roma children in schools and reduce drop-out rates.

However, the report denounces a persistent lack of political willingness in the country to build an inclusive society. Despite ECRI’s recommendation in its previous report, ethnically segregated education systems are still in place and the political elites of the three main ethnic groups show no willingness to embrace integrated schools.

“Ending all forms of ethnic segregation in schools is probably one of the most important tasks for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is absolutely vital in order to build an inclusive society and to spare future generations the curse of ethnic divisionism and hatred.” said ECRI’s Chair, Christian Ahlund.

Inter-ethnic tensions remain dangerously high in the country and the political discourse, including in the media, is still characterized by the frequent use of hate speech, while the authorities’ reaction is almost nonexistent.

There has also been no progress towards executing the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina. The country’s constitution continues to tie eligibility for certain high political offices to a person’s ethnicity. The unwillingness to change these provisions is symptomatic for the existing political obstacles to overcoming the ethnic partition of the country.