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U.S. sanctions Bosnian prime minister, businessman day after presidential elections

Milorad Dodik, a member of the collective presidency of the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, casts his vote in the country's general elections, in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Sunday. Photo by Aleksandar Golic/EPA-EFE
Milorad Dodik, a member of the collective presidency of the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, casts his vote in the country's general elections, in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on Sunday. Photo by Aleksandar Golic/EPA-EFE

Oct. 3 (UPI) -- The United States on Monday announced sanctions against Fadil Novalic, the prime minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is "undermining democratic processes" in the country.

The U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury Department announced the sanctions, which targeted Bosnian businessman Slobodan Stankovic for "close ties" to Milorad Dodik, a Bosnian official who was sanctioned in January for corruption, and Stankovic's business, Integral Inzenjering A.D. Laktasi.

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The sanctions came as more than 3 million Bosnian citizens voted in the country's general election for the nation's collective presidency on Sunday. Dodik is one of three members of the collective presidency.

Novalic misused pensioner data "for the benefit of his own political party" in violation of the nation's laws, using the data to send letters to citizens about his accomplishments and promising pensions in the week before the 2018 election, according to the Treasury Department.

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"This action violates BiH law and reflects a larger, publicly reported pattern of using his position of political influence for personal or party gain, undermining democratic processes or institutions in BiH," a Treasury Department news release reads.

The State Department added that was "just one of many publicly reported activities" in which he used his position for personal or party gain and undermined the country's political institutions.

"We will continue to target those that destabilize the region, as well as their supporters, and hold them to account," Brian Nelson, the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence said.

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The Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the years-long Bosnian War and merged Bosnia and Herzegovina into a single sovereign state in 1995, established the government in two entities -- the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

The Bosnian War spanned from 1992 to 1995 and involved two different forces after a referendum to declare independence amid the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Former Yugoslav Army units in Bosnia transformed in the army of Republic Srpska, comprised of ethnic Serbs and backed by Serbia who opposed the referendum and were loyal to the former Yugoslavia.

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A second faction, comprised mainly of ethnic Bosniaks, were loyal to the former Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- the entity formed upon the secession from Yugoslavia and the predecessor to the country's current iteration.

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The third faction was the army of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, an unrecognized proto-state backed by Croatia that had claimed the northern part of Bosnia upon its independence from Yugoslavia, but lost control of parts of its territory to the army of Republic Srpska in the beginning of the war.

The war, which was characterized by ethnic cleansing and mass rapes, ultimately dragged out in a stalemate until the Dayton Peace Agreement was reached.

The Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina, led by Novalic, now administers the western half of the nation while the Republika Srpska administers the northern and eastern parts of the nation.

Dodik, a Bosnian Serb, is an influential politician who previously served as the prime minister of Republika Srpska from 1998 to 2001 and as its president from 2010 to 2018.

He currently serves as the chairman of the collective presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- a three-member body that must include one Bosniak, one Serb and one Croat.

The United States on Monday accused Dodik of "destabilizing activities" and sanctioned Stankovic for "having materially assisted, sponsored, provide material support for" Dodik.

The State Department said that Republika Srpska under Dodik's leadership "is seeking to create parallel structures that undermine state-level institutions" while ethno-nationalist parties in Novalic's Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina "are crippling the country's democratic processes."

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"Stankovic has long supported Dodik's destabilizing activities," the State Department said.

"Stankovic's firm Integral receives major construction projects in the RS without fair and open competition due to its close connections to RS leadership.

"In return, Stankovic provided support to Dodik's propaganda machine by transforming the formerly independent media outlet, Alternativna Televizija, into a mouthpiece for Dodik and his destabilizing and divisive activities."

Last week, President Joe Biden's administration blacklisted Diana Kajmakovic -- a state prosecutor who was accused of being "brazenly corrupt" with links to criminal organizations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that the country currently faces the "most serious political crisis" since the end of the Bosnian War, and that its justice system is "increasingly captured by, and under the control of, political parties and their patronage networks."

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