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Biden Begins Balkan Tour In Bosnia

Vice President Joe Biden is preparing to address Bosnia's Parliament as the U.S. works to demonstrate renewed interest in the Balkans.

Biden landed in Sarajevo on Tuesday, making the first stop in a three-day tour of the region. He met with Bosnia's three-person presidency, will talk with the governing coalition and speak - separately - with Bosnia's staunchest rivals, Bosniak leader Haris Silajdzic and Milorad Dodik, head of the country's Serbs.

Biden was scheduled to be introduced in Parliament by the speaker, Beriz Belkic.

"Vice President Biden's presence here underscores the commitment of the United States to the people of this country, and highlights the importance U.S. foreign policy-makers place on Bosnian and Herzegovina's stability, security, and ultimately its integration into NATO and the European Union," Belkic planned to say, according to an advance text of his remarks.

Bosniaks are eager for the U.S. to get involved more deeply in Bosnia. But Serbs want Washington to back off.

After more than three years of war, the United States brokered a peace agreement in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio. The deal preserved the country's international borders but divided it into two ministates

one for Bosnia's Christian Orthodox Serbs, the other to be shared by Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

The two ministates are linked by some common institutions.

The agreement stopped the fighting but failed to create a functioning country.

For years, Bosnia's path toward European Union membership has been blocked, primarily by quarrels among Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats over how to enter the 27-nation organization - as a unified country or one that is ethnically divided, as is currently the case.

Serbs say Bosnia can enter only as a loose federation of two or three ethnically based ministates. But Bosniaks and Croats are pushing for unification. And the process has stagnated.

The U.S. administration wants to bring "a new focus, a new sense of energy, a new activism with regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the region as a whole," the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, Charles English, said last week. And it wants to help the people of the region take their place in the EU and NATO, he said.

Biden is traveling through the region with Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief.

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for constitutional reform in Bosnia and the appointment of a special U.S. envoy to the Balkans. The envoy would work with the EU on facilitating reforms in Bosnian government and society.

Across Bosnia's Serb region, several hundred protesters lit candles Tuesday to show their dissatisfaction with U.S. plans to get more involved in the country's affairs.

"Joe Biden arrived to tear apart Serbia and the Republika Srpska," said Bogdan Subotic, a former Bosnian Serb general, using the official name of Bosnia's Serb Republic. Subotic was protesting in Banja Luka, the country's second-largest city.

"America is not recognizing us," said Pantelija Curguz, a 35-year-old war veteran who lost a leg in the fighting. "I believe we are discriminated against because nobody wants to hear our side."

On Wednesday, Biden will fly to Serbia, where his visit is widely viewed as a chance for a fresh start following years of strained ties.

But many people in the country still view America as anti-Serb. The mistrust stems from the 1999 U.S.-led NATO bombing of Serbia that ended the country's rule in Kosovo.

In February 2008, angry nationalists set fire to the U.S. embassy in Belgrade to protest U.S. support for Kosovo's statehood.

Nationalist parties have opposed Biden's visit, saying it amounts to a "humiliation" of the country. However, there have been no major protests so far.

Biden will finish is tour Thursday in Kosovo.